JUNCTION CITY — Regardless of sport or season, for every state champion, there is a runner-up.
That’s the gloomy reality for the Manhattan High boys’ soccer team, which capped its most successful season in school history with a two-week playoff run that culminated in a berth in Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game against Blue Valley Northwest.
But the Indians weren’t on their game against the Huskies, struggling against their defense most of the day while allowing a pair of goals in the 2-0 loss.
While coaches, players and the hundreds of fans that made the short trip to Junction City were clearly all disappointed with the result, it’s hard to ignore just how good Manhattan played to get to the season’s final game.
“We don’t want to be happy losers, but the truth is it’s been a remarkable couple of weeks,” Manhattan head coach Frank Alonso said. “We beat the No. 1 and the No. 2 teams to get to the final, and fair play to them, they deserved it. They were comfortable winners and we chose a bad day not to play well.
“I think in the state finals, the first goal is always the key, and they got it, and then they got their confidence.”
Austin Flores got the Huskies on the board first, putting away a goal after multiple chances as Alex Richt frantically tried to grab the ball in the 20th minute. The Indian defense had several opportunities to get the ball out of their goal, but couldn’t get a handle on it.
“The frustrating part is we gave up that first goal and had four chances to clear the ball and didn’t,” Alonso said. “Then the second goal, we had just spoken about it at halftime — and the guy scored a great goal, but it was very preventable.”
Blue Valley Northwest scored its second goal at the beginning of the second period, getting a nice shot by Trevor Kerns past Richt to take a two-goal lead.
Offensively, Manhattan was stymied by Blue Valley Northwest’s defense, which took away the Indians’ ability to possess the ball and get shots downfield.
“They did a nice job pressing,” Alonso said. “We didn’t press the ball as much as we should have, and they put their will on the game. That’s the way they wanted to play. We tried three different formations on them and it just didn’t work today.
“They imposed their will on how they wanted to play. If you get a goal, the game is changed, but we weren’t able to do what we wanted to do.”
For senior Kodi Minocha, not playing up to their potential in the season’s most important game is what hurt the most.
“We’re a family here and we gave it all — they just had a better game than us,” he said. “I just wish we would have had a better game here at the end. But we beat the top two teams in the state to get here. It was a great run and a great season — I’ll never forget it.”
Manhattan (16-4-1) didn’t win a state title Saturday, but that doesn’t diminish the team’s accomplishments this season.
The group was the first in school history to make it past the state quarterfinals and into the season’s final weekend, and got a statement win against previously-undefeated Olathe East in Friday’s semifinals to give them a shot at the title against the Huskies.
They finish with the most wins and the senior class will be remembered as the best in school history, at least for now.
“It’s the greatest season in school history, we made a great run, we beat the top two teams,” Alonso said. “I’m extremely proud of this team and the seniors are a special class. They’ll go down as our greatest team of all time. We’ll be ready for next year and have another run at it, but our seniors are remarkable and to lose all those guys at once is tough. They’ve been incredible and the only thing they should be doing is having their heads held high for what they’ve done. It’s been a great season.”