WARNING: This blog has nothing at all to do with dentistry, but it has everything to do with an amazing accomplishment I was lucky enough to witness on Friday night.
Sometimes you see courage when you least expect to see it. I didn’t come to Tulsa's Union Tuttle Stadium on Friday night expecting to see toughness redefined, but that’s exactly what happened.
Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Broken Arrow senior goalkeeper Katie Matuska before her Tigers squared off with two-time defending state champion Union in a state quarterfinal girls soccer game. I was asked to cover the game for the Tulsa World, and I will be the first to admit I am not a soccer expert. But my Friday assignment brought me to Union Tuttle Stadium, and I’m glad it did.
For almost the first 12 minutes of the match, things were pretty uneventful. But then Matuska and Union’s Stephanie Aitken collided on a play near the goal after a free kick. Matuska went down, clutching her right knee. The man sitting next to me told me she has had problems with her ACL in the past, but this time she had taken a knee straight to the hip. Slowly, she rose from the turf and hobbled to the sidelines where she would receive medical attention.
If things had ended there, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone in attendance. However, as the second half began, there was Matuska, assuming her position in the goal. Noticeably favoring her right leg, she stretched and went through her halftime rituals. A short time later, Union jumped on the scoreboard first as Courtney Morris converted on a free kick from Cecilee Burdge to give the Redskins a 1-0 lead with 26:18 to play in regulation. Matuska dove to try to prevent the goal. It took her quite a while to get up and, when she did, she once again headed to the sidelines for what looked to be the end of her night and maybe her career at Broken Arrow.
Well, her Tiger teammates weren’t ready for Matuska’s time in goal to be over. Broken Arrow’s Kelsey Killion knotted the game at 1-1 with 12:04 to play on some nifty footwork and a shot that went into the lower right corner of the goal. Regulation ended with the teams tied 1-1, as did the first and second overtimes. Now it was time for penalty kicks, and the winner would move on in the state tournament.
Now for those of you not familiar with the penalty kick, it’s a one-on-one exercise in guessing. One player kicks the ball from almost point-blank range, while the goalkeeper is left to defend the goal alone. The kicker has to guess what the goalie will do, and vice versa.
As the time for penalty kicks drew near, Matuska hobbled onto the field. My first thought was that this was a bad idea. How could someone who could barely move or put any weight on her right leg have the season put squarely upon her shoulders? Obviously, I didn’t know Matuska.
Union’s first penalty kick sailed into the net, as Morris put the ball in the lower right corner of the goal in what seemed to be the perfect spot that Matuska couldn’t reach with her knee injury. Again, she laid on the ground. Again, she writhed in pain. Again, she slowly got up and moved to the side. It was becoming a Greek tragedy playing out in front of me.
Union scored on its next shot as well, with Matuska again collapsing … and getting up. Then something amazing happened … she blocked the next shot. The girl who could barely move smothered a shot as her teammates celebrated. Like the crowd becoming more and more excited each time Rocky Balboa would get off the canvas after being knocked down, the Tigers were starting to get that same emotion from watching their teammate battle through her injury.
Broken Arrow and Union tied at the end of the penalty kicks, meaning sudden death would now be the rule. Union’s Ali Amayo stepped to the ball and blasted a shot in the same vulnerable position that her teammate had found to score the first penalty kick goal. But, almost in slow motion, Matuska went to her right (her injured right, mind you) and stopped the shot. Union stood stunned as BA’s Rebecca Morris scored on the next shot, giving Broken Arrow an upset 2-1 victory.
The shot by Morris set off a celebration by the Tigers. Matuska tried to take part but the pain was too great. As her teammates ran off the field and into the locker room, two stayed behind to carry Matuska. She didn’t have the strength to walk off this time.
“What she did tonight shows her unbelievable mental strength and character,” said Broken Arrow head coach Justin Elkington, who saw his Tigers improve to 11-3-1 and avenge an early-season loss to Union. “When we went into overtime, she started limbering up for us to get into the penalty kick situation. She was amazing.”
Amazing is a good synonym for Matuska on Friday night.
“It was a simple one-on-one play and the girl just buried her knee in my hip,” Matuska said after the game. “I came out and tried to ice it and stretch it out. I just had to tough it out.”
It seems in our sports metaphor world that the image of a limping Willis Reed coming back in Game 7 for the New York Knicks to provide inspiration for his teammates is used often. I know for sports fans of that generation, it was a moment that will live forever in their minds. As for me? I’ll take the memories of what I saw on Friday night, knowing that I was watching someone give everything they had for her teammates and for her, a senior, to keep playing and pursuing a state championship.
Perhaps the saddest part is that more people weren’t there to watch Matuska give everything she had, but who knew that bravery and courage would make an appearance on Friday night? No one. But those who were there will never forget what they saw.
Nice job, Katie Matuska. I wish every athlete had a heart as big as yours.
To see photos from the game, including Matuska, click on the link below.