There are sports stories of heroes who come off the bench and save the game. It’s rare to hear of someone who gets benched and then comes back into the game to save it.
Then there’s Arin Watson.
Denmark girls head coach Jen Barr said she benched Watson halfway through the first half to let her know some things that she needed to work on. When Watson gave her coach an emotional response, Barr told her she needed to take what she said as constructive and fix it rather than a negative and shrug it off.
Watson answered big for Barr and her Denmark teammates by scoring the lone goal of the game at the start of the second half, giving the Danes the 1-0 victory over South Forsyth. The win punched Denmark’s ticket to the Class 7A playoffs, the Danes' first playoff appearance in girls soccer.
“I was anticipating the cross,” Watson said. “My coaches have been working with me on that so I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to just go for it.’ I saw the center back bobble it, so I took a touch and then another touch around the other defender. I noticed I was within the 18 [yard line] and that I had to shoot it.”
It’s the best feeling ever. Not only just for myself, but I’m happy for this team because we have been working so hard. We’re defeating other people’s expectations of us. People don’t think we’re going to go far, but I think we proved tonight that we can’t be messed with.”
The victory makes Denmark the third seed in Region 6-7A, and the Danes will play Norcross in the first round of the state tournament. Barr said the experience that her team will take from the state tournament is “invaluable.”
“We’ve been working a lot on grit,” Barr said. “With all of the kids. We’re a very young team. We have 11 freshmen. Grit is something that can put a lot of pressure on such a young team. There’s a lot of things I couldn’t say to them at the beginning of the season."
South had multiple shots on goal in the game but none of them could get past Denmark goalie Kiersten Bell. Most notably, Bell jumped into the air to block a shot on goal off her fingertips midway through the second half.
“I think we probably came out a little slow in the second half,” South head coach Eric Swanburg said. “And we paid for it. It is what it is. That’s what I told the girls. Sometimes things don’t bounce your way and you have to respond to your circumstances.”
After making the jump from Class 4A to Class 7A this season, Barr said that she has spent a lot of time during practice and in the locker room talking about how rare it is for a team to have sudden success without a single senior on their roster.
“We’ve been talking about it all season,” Barr said. “One of the things we’ve been saying recently is that in April, everybody is getting looked at as the grade above. If you’re a freshman, you’re being viewed as a sophomore now. There’s leadership that I’m expecting. It’s the mentality we have to have.”
Swanburg said that he was excited about the future seasons to come for his soccer team. He wants to get together with his rising ninth-graders along with the rest of his returnees sooner than later to get the bad taste of Wednesday’s loss out of their mouth and look forward.
“Did we have chances?” Swanburg said. “I think the girls showed what they were capable of doing. I’ve got a good bunch of kids that really try hard.”
South finishes its regular season Thursday against River Ridge.
Though Barr said the team will do some celebrating, she wanted to communicate the gravity of what her team had accomplished to the girls.
“This sets the precedent,” Barr said. “This sets the tone. I try to tell the girls that they are the foundation of the program. Trust us as a coaching staff and now they can buy in. Tonight is a big deal because they just laid the groundwork for every other team to come.”
There is no set date for Denmark’s first-round playoff game against Norcross at this time.