TOPEKA — Searching for a second straight trip to the Class 6A state soccer tournament, the Manhattan High girls’ soccer team knew it was in for a tough test against Washburn Rural Tuesday evening in Topeka.
The Indians battled, but ultimately came up short against the Junior Blues, losing 2-1 to end their season and break up a 12-game winning streak.
Manhattan head coach Mike Sanchez said it was hard to comfort his players following the emotional loss.
“It’s hard to tell them, especially with eight seniors, six of them who played last year and got to the final four,” Sanchez said. “To get this close, it’s hard. They should be proud, and they had an amazing run. They had a huge career and six of them have been on varsity since 10th grade.”
Washburn Rural got on the board first, with Jessica Pancoast scoring past goalkeeper Molly Fiser on a cross from Claire Meyers in the 14th minute of the first half.
Manhattan answered in the second period, getting a booming shot from Kelsey Schroll on a free kick from about 45 yards out, perfectly placed outside of Rural goalie Sarah Fritz’s reach to tie the game and steal back some momentum.
But the Junior Blues got a second goal with 11:29 to play on a defensive breakdown, with Kaira Houser sneaking past the defense and outrunning everybody before scoring past Fiser.
The Indians had numerous chances in the final 10 minutes, none closer than Aleise Williams’ shot with six seconds left after battling through the Rural defense and firing a shot that rolled wide right.
“There at the end, it’s hard,” Sanchez said. “That would have put us back in the game, we’ve been to double overtime before, so we would have been prepared.”
Sanchez said some halftime adjustments helped get Manhattan back in the game after a first half dominated by Rural.
“When our target forward would check, they would kind of converge on her, and not give her much time to play the ball back and just close down on her,” he said. “So we tried to make a dummy run, have her check, and then make sure our attacking mids were there to support and look for the switch for the diagonal ball, which was huge in the second half.
“We definitely had some quality opportunities, but it’s hard.”
Considering school is already out and the game was on the road, the Indians had good support in the stands, many of which turned out to see a rivalry game that also had such distinct postseason implications.
“We would rather be at home playing this game,” Sanchez said. “We had a pretty good crowd, and we appreciate all their support, but the rivalry makes the intensity and pushes it higher. They’ve beat us twice and tied us once since I’ve been here at MHS. They got us back at home and here it was a little breakdown.”