In the years to come, people won’t remember Thursday’s result. They won’t remember that Kansas State soccer, on the day of the first official game at its new permanent stadium — called Buser Family Park — fell to Arkansas State 2-1.
In the days, and even months ahead? Sure, the bitter memories will remain, at least for the players and coaches. Particularly a moment in the closing minutes, when a kick from Brookelynn Entz, which would have knotted the contest at 2-all, clanked off the right post. Instead of a chance at overtime, the Wildcats had victory elude them for the 12th time in as many games dating back to last season. (The tally: 11 losses and a draw.)
Had Entz’s shot at the 88:45 mark gone in — or any of their numerous opportunities in a game in which the Wildcats outshot the Red Wolves 27-5, including a 6-4 edge in shots on goal — the hosts likely would have walked away with a victory. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“The ball was hitting the post, the frame, last leg, every stinking nail,” K-State head coach Mike Dibbini said. “It was just one of those ones that’s tough to overcome.”
Entz rued the unconverted opportunities.
“If we had tied the game up, we would have won,” she said. “We would have (gone) into overtime and then put them away. We were waiting for somebody, anybody to score. We had our chances.”
While the game didn’t turn out the way K-State’s players and coaches wanted, focusing solely on the score is to lose sight of the bigger picture. Thursday marked a major step forward for the Wildcats as a soccer program. Now in its fourth season, K-State has a permanent stadium all its own. Yes, the playing field remains the same. And yes, there still are a few things that need to be completed, such as touching up the exterior facade and wrapping up work on the locker room, team lounge, visiting team locker room, and the offices of K-State’s coaching staff.
Yet even in the midst of another defeat, the Wildcats were well aware of Thursday’s significance.
“It was great to be here in front of the crowd,” Dibbini said. “The fans were great. It’s definitely memorable as far as being closer to the fans as well and getting their energy. So it’s a nice venue. We’re blessed. We’re grateful for it.”
Entz said she barely could contain her excitement. It is a tangible example of why she became a Wildcat in the first place, after all.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” she said. “This is one of the reasons that I came to K-State: because I thought it was just such a cool opportunity to be here, start a new program. It’s just awesome.”
Team captain Katie Cramer felt the same way. Christening the new stadium with a victory was on the forefront of her mind.
“Playing here is incredible,” she said. “Being here for four years and to finally see this happen and happen so quick and have a big crowd like that, for any player, that’s a dream come true for sure.”
Cramer said she played with pressure — but “good pressure.” The kind that gives a player more pep in their step, that “gives you spirit to be out there,” she explained. It still was a bit hard for her to believe. As one of five players who have been with the program from the jump — the others are Grace Brennan, Laramie Hall, Aly Rocha and Ashley Zane — Cramer said they “would have loved to have” any permanent home facility.
She wasn’t choosy.
“I can’t believe we have this and how nice it is. ... That’s crazy,” she said.
Above all, both Cramer and Entz said the stadium further legitimizes the program. No longer are they just “the new team” around campus. Fellow students drive by the stadium and notice. The soccer team is here to stay.
“We definitely feel established,” Cramer said. “We take a lot of pride in that.”
After three seasons as an expansion team of sorts, Entz felt the Wildcats finally shed that label Thursday.
“It makes us feel like we’re really at a Power 5 school,” she said. “Now we’ve just got to make sure that we win these games that we’re supposed to win and really show that we do belong in the Power 5 and that we can compete at this level.”
Entz is right: At some point, giving it the old college try won’t cut it. As former Colorado football head coach Dan Hawkins once said (or perhaps “ranted” is a more accurate description), “It’s Division I football! It’s the Big 12! It ain’t intramurals!” He obviously was referring to the “other” football, but the point stands: The ladies on K-State’s soccer team are scholarship athletes. And college sports at the Division I level, and especially at Power 5 schools, are a business. Bottom line. When the returns aren’t positive over a period of time, changes usually follow. In addition to its 12-game winless skid, Thursday’s loss marked K-State’s eighth straight home setback. It also dropped the Wildcats’ all-time home record to 8-14-1.
Bear in mind, Dibbini literally started from scratch. K-State announced the formation of a women’s soccer program in October 2014, and two months later, Dibbini was tasked with building it from nothing. Facing other schools that have had teams far longer, growing pains always are to be expected. The good news for Dibbini: K-State, and athletics director Gene Taylor, are firmly convinced he’s still the man for the job. (Prior to Thursday’s match, Dibbini received a two-year contract extension that will take him through the end of the 2023 season.)
By then, the specifics of Thursday’s loss will be a distant memory. By then, we’ll have clarity on Entz’s contention that the Wildcats have to start winning games they’re supposed to and showing they can compete at the highest level.
Four years hence, with the “newness” factor of the stadium worn off, we’ll know whether K-State has turned the corner or whether it’s a program still trying to find its footing.