Mattie Brown still remembers when she fell in love with soccer. As an energetic second-grader, she was playing with her brand-new Dora the Explorer kickball and realized she was bound to be a soccer player.
“I was just running around by myself, having a great time, thinking it was so much fun,” Brown said. “I was just like, ‘Mom, you have to sign me up for County West [Soccer Association].”
More than 10 years and 101 high school goals later, Brown has been named the 2019 Daily Journal girls soccer Player of the Year.
The numbers alone speak for Brown’s dominance on the pitch during the past four years. Her 101 career goals are a Herscher record — a record she broke as a junior. She scored 37 of those goals this season — another school record.
Tigers coach Chris Longtin knew Brown had the chance to become a special player but also knew nothing in life is a guarantee. Suffice to say, Brown did what she needed to do to reach the level of excellence Longtin knew was there.
“It’s tough to predict how four years are gonna go — you always hope they’ll work hard and put in extra time needed to succeed,” Longtin said. “And you can tell, even just from her junior to senior year, she put a ton of her own work in to become the best.”
The senior forwarded ended her career with a fourth selection to the Interstate Eight All-Conference team, her second go-round on the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association All-Sectional team and a four-time Daily Journal All-Area selection.
With a mountain of accolades piled up before this season began, Brown knew she was going to have more eyes on her than ever. That didn’t stop her from routinely ripping through triple teams on her way to the net, an area of her game Longtin saw arguably the most marked improvement in Brown’s game this season.
“Coming into the season, I could tell she had been working on her touch and really didn’t want to be caught like last year adjusting doubles and triple [teams],” Longtin said. “She had been working on stuff like that … just being able to do that, noticing midway through that she can make a lot of things happen.
“It’s not like she was doing it against weaker teams, she scored some big goals against some big schools.”
Those bigger schools, powerhouses such as Bradley-Bourbonnais and Plainfield East to name a couple, had the Tigers at just 3-4 on the season through their first seven games.
The Tigers kept their heads down and made a strong showing at the PepsiCo Showdown, winning their tournament. That’s when Brown said most of her teammates thought a shot at state was a possibility, although it was not yet something she could allow herself to imagine.
“We started looking up, and the PepsiCo Showdown came around — we were playing hard teams and winning, and everyone was just talking about state,” Brown said. “I’m kind of a skeptic; I always assume the worst, and I think that helps me.”
That skepticism did help motivate Brown, who scored her 100th career goal at one of the biggest stages possible — the Tigers’ IHSA Class 1A Mendota Super-Sectional contest against Rock Island (Alleman). Her goal was the first of three Herscher goals in a 3-2 overtime victory that sent the Tigers to the Class 1A State Finals.
“It was the most pressure I’d ever felt in my life,” Brown said of the game and her goal. “We were at the [IHSA Class 1A Manteno Sectional championship against Bishop McNamara] game, and I thought I would get my 100th goal there, and we would hit them hard — that was our mentality going into that game.
“Once I didn’t get it there, I knew the competition was only going to get harder.”
The Tigers dropped their first game at state, a 2-0 defeat to North Shore Country Day. But in the third-place game, Brown scored the first of two Tigers goals to give them a 2-1 win against Lisle to cap a bittersweet weekend.
“Once we got there, we saw the level of competition and knew we had to play [well],” Brown said. “I knew we had the ability and were capable of competing, but it was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh; these are my last two games.’”
Brown was one of 10 seniors on this year’s Herscher squad, a group that has played together for about 10 years. While it hasn’t sunk in yet their group accomplished so much — four regional titles, two sectionals and a third-place finish — Brown said she always will remember her time in Herscher black and gold.
“I don’t think yet we can put into perspective what we did,” Brown said. “I know I’m going to be that grandma that says, ‘When I was your age, we went to state, and all my friends worked hard.’”