Indians edge Falcons, earn state trip

By Grant Guggisberg

The celebration was mild, at best.

There were no dogpiles at midfield, no hysterical shouting.

The Manhattan High girls’ soccer team had just defeated Wichita Heights 2-1 in the Class 6A state quarterfinals to earn a state berth this weekend, and it looked like business as usual after any home soccer victory.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for this team,” MHS coach Mike Sanchez said. “I think the expectations at the beginning of the year were that we would get (to state). But we had some adversity, we lost two in a row and had a tough loss to Washburn Rural. But they were resilient and able to bounce back, and we are where we are today because of their fight.”

After a one-year absence, the Indians are going back to the 6A final four, which oddly enough, is set to be hosted by Wichita Heights this weekend.

“Credit Wichita Heights — they fought hard,” Sanchez said. “State is at Wichita Heights this year, so there was a lot of motivation for them to represent their home town.”

While the Indians managed to go up 2-0 in the second half and hold on for the win in the end, it wasn’t nearly as dominant a performance as the team’s 6-1 victory in April.

“We had plenty of chances, but when we played them the first time, we were on fire,” Sanchez said. “We couldn’t miss when we beat them 6-1. So we were just a little bit unlucky. We’ve practiced it and the girls know.”

MHS (14-4) took a 1-0 lead to halftime, despite being outshot by the Falcons in the opening half. Goalkeeper Molly Fiser had six saves at half, finishing with seven.

The Indians scored in the 10th minute on a free kick by Alli Taylor from 25 yards out.

In the second half, MHS added to its lead when Savannah Roberts stole possession on the Falcons’ side of the field and got it to Bailey Snyder, whose shot went past the Heights goalkeeper to make it 2-0.

The Indians were more dominant in the second period, taking eight shots on goal against Heights’ goalkeeper Lorena De La O, who finished the game with 10 saves.

With about 10 minutes left remaining, the Falcons turned up the pressure and got a goal from midfielder Jada Scott, whose shot from about 45 yards out found the left side of the net to make things interesting in the end.

The Falcons had several chances to tie in the final minutes, but couldn’t put another goal away.

“We got a little comfortable,” Sanchez said. “We dominated a little more in the second half, until the end. We just have to keep in mind the game is 80 minutes and it’s not over until that whistle blows.”

The Falcons looked to Scott throughout the game. Much like Junction City’s Cassidy Meadows, Scott is a difference maker in the midfield.

“They’ve got a great player in their center midfielder Jada (Scott),” Sanchez said. “She’s dynamic and some of these girls will see her again at the next level.”

Senior Kayla Faust said keeping tabs on Scott was the biggest challenge in the game.

“She’s so fast, and really aggressive,” Faust said. “She’s such a good player tactically, she’ll cut and go around you in a split second. She can hit it from really far out, so you have to be aware of where she is, not only for through-balls, but 30-yard shots.”

Freshman Lani Fischer, who alongside the others on the back line, had to deal with Scott most of the game, said the key to keeping her down was to always have someone going at her.

“She’s very fast and she’s strong to the ball,” Fischer said. “You have to always have someone going toward her and not diving on the ball and staying on top of her, because she’s very quick and she’ll beat people.”

Roberts, who had the Indians’ only assist on the day, said the chance to go to state is exciting.

“It wasn’t our best game, but I’m glad we pulled it out in the end,” she said. “I think at the end, we worked our hardest and it started to sink in that this could be our last game.”

MHS is set to play Blue Valley North (14-4-1) in the second semifinal at Wichita Heights on Friday, scheduled for 7 p.m. Maize (17-2) and Blue Valley Northwest (13-5-1) meet in the 5 p.m. semi, with the two winners to play in Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship. The consolation game will begin at noon.

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