The end of this season always figured to be emotional for the five Kansas State seniors, the class that kicked off the soccer program three years ago, when the Wildcats wandered through their first year of existence and picked up four wins.
Yet on Sunday afternoon, when K-State hosted West Virginia on senior day, the senior class was emotional for the wrong reason.
West Virginia blanked K-State, 3-0, at Buser Family Park.
The Mountaineers took a 1-0 lead into halftime, and the Wildcats looked capable of coming back, but that possibility vaporized when the visitors tacked on two more goals in the second half, which came less than two minutes apart.
K-State goalkeeper Emma Malsy totaled five saves, but her team couldn’t make up the three goals she allowed.
“This one was another one where I thought we played well — well enough to win the game,” K-State coach Mike Dibbini said. “We had some balls sitting on a silver platter for us, to take the lead, tie the (game), you name it. We couldn’t convert on those moments, and they converted on their moments.”
Dibbini was right. West Virginia totaled 14 shots, including eight on goal, while K-State registered 13 shots and three on goal.
West Virginia drew first blood in the 42nd minute, when Aaliyah Scott used a nifty cross to get the ball to the right side and toward defender Gabby Robinson, who chipped it in. Malsy had come too far out, so Robinson slapped it past her and into the back of the net.
The Mountaineers’ second goal, which came in the second half, was less teamwork and more skill. Forward Enzi Broussard had the ball just outside the box, on the right side, where she used a couple slick dribbling moves to slip past a pair of Wildcats.
Then, the shot was there, and Broussard took it. She fired into the top left corner, where Malsy couldn’t reach it.
2-0, West Virginia.
Less than two minutes later, the Mountaineers added to their lead. This time, forward Nicole Payne crossed a pass from the right side over to the middle of the field, where forward Jade Gentile was in perfect position. She booted the ball in mid-air and into the top-right shelf, over the top of Malsy’s outstretched hand.
Just like that, West Virginia’s lead went from breakable to insurmountable.
“I think the final nail in the coffin for us came with the second goal,” Malsy said.
“She was to my left side, and she got a free look on goal, basically. We didn’t step fast enough to close it down. She just picked out that top right corner for me. It was a very good shot, something that’s very hard to save, and you save it by luck, basically.”
It wasn’t just that. West Virginia scored goals exactly 1:44 apart. That made it hard for K-State to respond, not only to the scoreboard but also to the mental toll it took.
Just ask Dibbini, who has seen similar instances play out this season.
“That’s an area of detail that we have to continue to be better at,” Dibbini said. “We’ve talked about it. We’ve tried to address it. But it’ll come with time. Remember, this is year (four). They’re in year 25. We’re going to keep getting better. I’m proud of these girls.”
The game, though, represented more than its result.
One one hand, it was the first time the Wildcats played in a completed Buser Family Park. The renovated facility opened at the beginning of the season, but construction on the locker rooms wasn’t finished until a few days before K-State hosted West Virginia.
So for the first time, the Wildcats had a home locker room.
“So nice,” Malsy said. “It’s been a long, long time coming.”
Plus, it was the seniors’ final home game.
For the first three years of the program, K-State played in a facility whose best feature was its field. Seating was limited, and the press box wasn’t much.
The Wildcats would still like to win, but their 2019 senior class will leave the program with a better physical look — the new facility added 1,400 seats and a press box that includes television booth, a radio booth, operations booth media seating and one suite for fans — and with it, hope for the future.
“It means a lot,” K-State midfielder Laramie Hall said, “because there’s a lot of emotion and a lot of raw effort, dedication and time put into where we are now.”