With a 7-0 dismantling of the Garden City Buffaloes Thursday night, the Manhattan High girls’ soccer team is just one game away from a return to the state tournament for the second consecutive year.
But that one game will be tough.
Manhattan (14-4) will hit the road for a quarterfinal match against Centennial League rival Washburn Rural (16-2) on Tuesday, with a trip to state on the line.
Needing a win against the Buffaloes to get there, the Indians took care of business in their final home game of the season, taking a 2-0 lead to halftime before dominating the second half to put the match out of reach.
“We told them (at halftime) to look at it as preparation for Tuesday,” Manhattan head coach Mike Sanchez said. “Let’s come out firing, come out with some consistency and think about it being the sub-state game, one game away from the final four again.”
The Indians put up a two-goal lead in the first half, getting their first goal in the 14th minute on a well-struck ball by Ally Taylor from nearly 40 yards out to the left corner of the goal, well outside the reach of the Garden City goalie.
Less than five minutes later, Manhattan led 2-0 on a goal by Kelli Stockton on the run, with a nice pass from Taylor.
“I always tell them that 2-0 is one of the toughest leads to hold in the game,” Sanchez said. “It feels like enough, but it’s not really enough. If they score one, it puts you really close and puts your back against the wall, and we’d rather not play like that.”
The Buffaloes buckled down defensively the rest of the half, but could only hold the Indians down for so long.
Less than five minutes into the second period, Kelsey Schroll scored on a ball from Brooke Henry, with Aleise Williams scoring on a breakaway from Schroll six minutes later to make it 4-0.
Schroll scored again, hitting a shot from 30 yards out after Garden City defenders tried to clear the ball and misplayed it.
Manhattan added two goals late to push the lead to 7-0, with Lola Oppy scoring after Hannah Livsey attempted a shot that was blocked by the Buffaloes’ goalie, but not corralled. Oppy got control of the ball and kicked into the open goal.
Manhattan’s final goal came from Stockton over the head of the goalie, with Taylor providing the assist.
Forward Emma Samenus, who missed much of the season dealing with an ankle injury, came out of the game in the first half and did not return.
“I think she just got a stinger, the girl landed square on her ankle,” Sanchez said. “So with a two-goal lead, we’ll rest her. She’s a huge asset to us, so we want to have her for Tuesday.”
With a regional championship in the books, Manhattan can focus on trying to get past Rural, which won 2-1 earlier this season at Bishop Stadium. Sanchez said a challenging match with the Junior Blues will prepare whichever team moves on to the state tournament next weekend.
“It’ll be a good opportunity for both teams, being rivals, there’s a little more weight behind the game,” he said. “We’d love to play them here, and we’d love for school to be in session, too, because it’s great to have a crowd here for this one. Hopefully we get fans out for Tuesday, because it’s a rivalry game. It’ll be big. They’re a quality team, we’re a quality team, and I think we’re both peaking at the same time, and the girls will be looking forward to it.”
Senior Hannah Livsey said the team’s ability to put away goal-scoring chances lately is the progress needed to beat quality opponents like Rural.
“It’s always a good chance to get a rematch,” she said. “I think we can do it — we’re peaking at the right time, we’re finishing our opportunites, which has been kind of a struggle for us. But we’re really coming together and I think we can do it.”
Senior Zoey Botkin said the group is clicking at the right time.
“We’ve been doing a really good job lately of working as a unit, so hopefully that works out,” Botkin said. “I think we’ve reached our peak at the right time. Everyone’s coming together, we’re finally used to how everyone plays, and we’re finishing, which is a big factor there.”
Manhattan travels to Rural on Tuesday, with the quarterfinal match set to begin at 6 p.m.