Senior night, Manhattan midfielder Faith Beyer says, is a buildup of memories.
The family stroll to midfield reminds players who drove to practices and supported from the stands. The game itself inscribes the joy of playing into their minds. And the final whistle ensures they won’t forget how fast four years can pass.
The Indians commemorated their 2021 seniors Thursday with a 3-0 win over Shawnee Heights at Bishop Stadium. After four years spent spearheading the program, the Class of ’21 celebrated by allowing their teammates to lead.
None of Beyer, Reagan Geisbrecht, Sam Grynkiewicz, Marleigh Hutchinson or Joydan Brown scored a goal, but all of them will remember Thursday’s game fondly.
“They do a great job of embodying what we expect a lady Indian to be and what this program is about,” MHS head coach Mike Sanchez said of his senior class. “They’ve set a great example for this group behind them to follow. They deserve all of this.”
On an evening dedicated to retrospection, the Indians’ youngsters previewed the program’s future.
Manhattan attempted 28 shots against the Thunderbirds, but the three successes spawned from an underclassmen’s foot.
Freshman Reese Snowden commenced the scoring when she spun a ground-bound goal through Shawnee Heights goalkeeper Tatum Hoge’s hands with 31:20 to play in the first half. Fellow first-year player Emery Ruliffson scored with 19:07 to play in the game after Hoge saved Reagan Geisbrecht’s initial shot attempt. And with 3:34 to play, sophomore Maura Weins tucked a left-footed slow-roller into the bottom right corner.
Between those breakthroughs, though, the Indians faced a froth of frustration. They scored one goal in their first 20 shots, and too many of them came so close.
Five shots off the cross bar or a goal post; three slid inches wide of the net; and two more were deflected by Hoge. Sanchez told the Indians they will focus on shooting at their next practice. But he’s not sure what advice he can offer for bum luck.
“You can’t tell them to keep it on frame, ’cause it’s on frame,” Sanchez said. “We’ve just got to follow up our shots and capitalize on our opportunities. We won’t always get 20 to 30 shots.”
Senior night reminded Sanchez that he won’t always have his four multi-year senior starters, either. Geisbrecht, Manhattan’s “fiery, tenacious work horse” — a description she vindicated by earning a yellow card with 10 minutes to play — won’t play for Sanchez again once the playoff run ends.
Neither will Marleigh “boss lady” Hutchinson, who earned her nickname after scolding Sanchez for changing formations earlier this season. Or Grynkiewicz, whose laid-back personality syncs with her classmates’ stronger personalities and closely mirrors Sanchez’s off-field persona.
Beyer, who inspired Sanchez to soften his critiques based on a meeting they had after Manhattan’s 2019 loss to Washburn Rural, played her final match under Sanchez weeks ago.
But despite her torn ACL, the Indians sent her to midfield for kickoff.
She played 11 seconds, long enough to fulfill her vision for what Thursday’s celebration should’ve been.
“It meant a lot to even stand out there and put the uniform on,” Beyer said.
“You play with your best friends for four years. You want to play on your senior night.”
With the win, Manhattan clinched the second seed in Class 6A’s West Region, which means the Indians can host up to three playoff games if they keep winning.
Manhattan’s seniors, who have advanced to the state final four but never emerged as champions, can think of no better reward.
Thanks to Thursday’s memorable celebration, the Indians can host another Tuesday.
And they don’t plan to stop then.
“We don’t want to be done,” Grynkiewicz said. “This game gave us more confidence for next week.
If we play like this again and finish our chances, we’re going to win.”