Through one half of Tuesday’s girls’ soccer game between Thomas More Prep-Marian and Hays High, it was obvious neither side wanted to leave Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex on the losing end.
The Monarchs (6-1-1) and Indians (7-4) went to the half locked in a 1-1 tie after a physical opening half. The second half, however, was all Monarchs, and TMP left the pitch with a 4-1 victory, and it might have a talk at a recent practice to thank for the result.
“After that I feel like we’ve really clicked,” TMP senior Tyra Younie said. “We’re having more fun now instead of just focusing on our need to score. We’re not feeling as pressured to do it.”
The Indians saved their road to Damascus moment for after the game. Head coach Jim Maska and his team remained in its postgame circle well into the start of the junior varsity game with the students doing a majority of the speaking.
“I actually didn’t do much talking,” Maska said. “I allowed the girls to vent. Sometimes as a coach you’ve gotta sit back and listen to what they want to share with you.”
Maska added that he felt like there was just too much pressure on his girls ahead of the cross-town rivalry game, and senior Lieacha Cook could feel it.
“Everyone in school wanted it, so I think it was just so much pressure,” Cook said.
It looked as if the Indians were handling the pressure well early. After fighting off an early TMP surge that saw the Monarchs nearly score on a header by Megan Koenigsman, the Indians took the lead midway through the half.
Freshman Hannah McGuire made a strong run in front of the crowded far sideline, touched the ball around a Monarch defender and played a ball across the middle. The ball trickled between TMP goalkeeper Deonna Wellbrock and her back line, eventually landing at the foot of Hays High junior Sydney Sulzman. Sulzman placed the ball into the open net to kick off the scoring.
“We got that goal that we needed,” Maska said. “I was hoping that that would spark us a little more. It did, but came out the second half a little flat.”
Hays High was minutes away from taking the lead to halftime, but TMP sophomore Kayla Vitztum changed that.
Vitztum collected the ball near the sideline in front of the Hays High bench and tormented the Indians’ coach by dribbling past a pair of Indian defenders.
“We stayed playing like a man-to-man versus playing a zone area,” Maska said. “When a girl went from one zone into the second zone, we were busy running out of that zone.”
Vitztum got the ball back on her left and beat Indian goalkeeper Taylor Groen-Younger to the far post minutes before the end of the half.
At the half, the Monarchs weren’t pleased with playing to a tie.
“When we came off on halftime, we weren’t real happy with the way we were playing,” TMP sophomore Ashley Ostrander said.
“I think we had better movement in the second half.”
Improved movement paid dividends early in the second half. Sophomore midfielder Aubrey Koenigsman was taken down in the box and was awarded a penalty kick. Younie stepped to the spot, and after only a moment of preparation, she placed the ball with the outside of her right foot and beat Groen-Younger, who dove correctly to her left but was unable to get a hand on the ball. It was a clinical finish, one that Younie might not have been able to watch.
“It’s nerve wracking, but we practiced it yesterday so that helped a lot,” Younie said. “I probably kicked with my eyes closed.”
Ostrander quickly made it a two-goal game when she got the ball on her dominant left foot and dipped a ball over the Hays High keeper and into the side-net.
“I like shooting from the left side because I’m left footed. It gives me a good shot,” Ostrander said. “It was open and I just shot it.”
Ostrander and senior Bailey Hageman were inches away from adding to the total, as both fired shots off the crossbar later in the half. Minutes after Hageman’s attempt ricocheted back into play, she got on the end of a through ball from Halle Lang and beat the keeper for the final score of the game.
“We definitely didn’t go out and play as a team (in) the second half for sure,” Cook said. “We definitely shut down.”
Finishing was a point of emphasis for the Monarchs in the days leading up to the game.
“We’ve worked a lot up top in practice, and it really helped finishing and scoring,” Ostrander said.
At the end of the day, TMP coach Darryl Wellbrock felt like his team was at its best especially considering the competition.
“This is the best they’ve played all season against a good quality team,” Wellbrock said. “They are starting to come together as a group.”
After being on the losing end of a lopsided game as a freshman, Younie appreciated the opportunity to get on the right side as an upperclassmen.
“It means a lot,” Younie said. “My freshman year they beat us pretty bad. Growing that much to our senior year means a whole lot.”
Both sides mentioned the possibility of another meeting in regionals, and the Indians are confident they would show better given the chance.
“We are a talented team,” Maska said. “We’ve got some things to work on, and we’ll get there.”
The talent of the Indians was brought down a notch on Wednesday when junior Talyn Kleweno learned she had a torn ACL suffered in Monday’s game at Great Bend, according to the Hays High coach.
Hays High will look to regroup on Tuesday when it hosts McPherson.
TMP will head east for a tournament hosted by Bishop Miege in Kansas City. The Monarchs are scheduled to play Archbishop O’Hara on Friday before Saturday’s championship and third-place games.