Bethany Markovich grew up watching the Siloam Springs girls soccer team win five straight state championships from 2014 to 2018, and she took particular interest in the last four titles of that run watching her cousin, Meghan Kennedy Ellis, shine for the Lady Panthers.
"I remember going to every single one of her state championship games at Lady 'Back Field' and just watching and wanting it every single time," said Markovich. "Being in middle school and trying out and knowing I was Kennedy's cousin, it wasn't pressure or anything, but everyone knew who I was. That was the goal every year was to do what Coach Ellis did and be a state champion."
Markovich, now a senior, even plays the same position Ellis played at Siloam Springs -- center back on defense. Ellis went on to play at John Brown and is now a volunteer assistant on the coaching staff at Siloam Springs. In turn, Markovich signed to play at John Brown next fall.
"Bethany is a great player," Ellis said. "I've gotten the privilege of watching her grow up and develop her soccer skills through training and playing with her at family soccer games. She is a hard-working, intelligent soccer player, and I can't help but smile when I watch her play. She's been a great leader since she's been a freshman. And I know that she will do great things at JBU just as she's done great things at Siloam Springs."
Markovich is hoping her third time in the state tournament will be the lucky charm for Siloam Springs, which hasn't hoisted the state championship trophy since Ellis' senior year in 2018.
The 5A-West Conference champion and No. 1 seed Lady Panthers (17-3) are scheduled to open Class 5A State Tournament action at 9 a.m. Thursday against Maumelle in El Dorado.
"In my four years here, this is the most connected I've ever felt with a team," Markovich said. "So I think that has helped us a lot this year. We all want to win it. In the past we've had players who were just there, but this year players, subs, people on the bench, everyone wants to win it. So we all have the same goal. We're all working toward the same thing. I think that's going to take us the farthest this year."
Siloam Springs came up short by identical 1-0 losses to Searcy in both the 2019 state quarterfinals in Searcy and the 2021 quarterfinals in Siloam Springs. And the 2020 was wiped out by the covid-19 pandemic.
Markovich feels like the Lady Panthers have some unfinished business.
"Especially for the seniors, this is our last chance," she said. "We have one more week to give it everything we've got -- two more if we make it (to the finals)."
Markovich has been through all of it, a starter on defense on that 2019 team as a freshman, and she hasn't left the starting lineup since.
And while she hasn't led the Lady Panthers to a state title yet, Markovich has already left her mark on Lady Panthers soccer.
"For the past four years Bethany has been a force in our back line," said Siloam Springs coach Abby Ray. "The team always feels a bit more secure knowing Bethany is back there. She is a quiet but impactful leader. Her teammates unanimously vote for her every year when we are choosing captains and team leaders. She leads by example and her teammates respect her leadership. Bethany sets the bar when it comes to fitness. I think part of our success is due to the bar she sets for the team."
Markovich said her freshman year was a blur, but she remembers senior Hailey Dorsey taking her under her wing as a ninth-grader playing varsity soccer.
"Hailey Dorsey, she was there with me at the beginning," Markovich said. "She helped me through a lot of that, making me comfortable back there."
The Lady Panthers only played a handful of games in 2020 before the pandemic. The Lady Panthers had a solid 2021 season before coming up short.
Which had led to this season. Siloam Springs enters the playoffs on a 14-game winning streak, all in 5A-West Conference play and Markovich is a big reason why.
Eleven of the 14 conference wins have come via shutout and the Lady Panthers have outscored their opponents 75-3 in league play and 88-13 overall.
That's a trend the Lady Panthers hope to continue this week, Markovich said.
"That's the goal. Defense, do what we do, don't let them score at all, Markovich said. "Offense do their thing. They've been scoring a lot. Everyone's been doing their part."