Already on a roll over the past month, the Fort Hays State women’s soccer team cranked it up another notch for its postseason opener.
In what coach Blake Reynolds called the Tigers’ best performance from start to finish, No. 4-seeded FHSU posted a 3-0 shutout against No. 5-seeded Missouri Western in the first round of the MIAA Soccer Tournament on Wednesday at the FHSU Soccer Stadium.
Behind goals from Vianei Sanchez, Darby Hirsch and Cailey Perkins, Fort Hays cruised into the tournament semifinals and will play Central Oklahoma at 7 p.m. on Friday in Edmond, Okla.
“The energy was what I was worried about at the start, and we played just great from the start,” Reynolds said. “Then I was like, ‘Ok, we’re going to be fine today.’ ”
Fort Hays, winners of six straight and nine of its last 10, moved to 11-6-2 on the season. Reynolds attributed the Tigers’ last-season surge to the team getting healthy and the development of the underclassmen.
“We have a lot of young players; we’re starting like six sophomores and freshmen,” he said. “They just needed to learn how to win, and this team has learned how to win and they’re growing in confidence.
“That’s a good team that we just beat 3-0 today. That says a lot about the way that we’ve grown. That was our best game, by far, that we’ve played for 90 minutes. Really proud of these young kids. We only have one senior out there. It’s fun this year, but it’s exciting for next year, too, just knowing that everybody’s coming back.”
After seeing a couple of quality shots saved by Griffons’ goalkeeper Anna Mayer early on, the Tigers got on the board on Sanchez’s shot that snuck inside the post at the 20:06 mark of the match. Chloe Montano earned the assist on the goal.
“I think that kind of released a little pressure for us and allowed us to keep playing freely through the end of the first half,” Reynolds said of the goal. “I told them at the start of the second half, ‘We need 15 really good minutes to start the second half. They’re going to come out firing. They’re desperate. They know they have 45 minutes left in the season.’
“But that goal really gave us the confidence to build toward.”
Hirsch’s goal came from even further away, with the junior sending one in from about 30 yards at the 47:03 mark.
“Darby’s (goal), she’ll tell you she shot it, but that was a cross,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “We’ll take it, though. We hadn’t had one of those this year. Their keeper’s really good, so to sneak one like that by her was great. And obviously V’s hit the post. … She’s a good keeper and it was going to take something special to beat her. She made a couple of fantastic saves where I thought we had sure goals.”
Cailey Perkins helped put an exclamation mark on the win, scoring off an assist from Nikita Woods at the 87:44 mark.
Megan Kneefel picked up the shutout for the Tigers in goal, saving three shots. FHSU outshot the Griffons 18-7.
FHSU, which advanced to MIAA Tournament semifinals for the fifth straight year, will meet a Central Oklahoma team that boasts an 18-1 record. The Bronchos beat Washburn 4-1 on Wednesday to advance.
FHSU took a 3-0 loss to UCO on Sept. 28 in Hays.
“That’s a team that’s probably going to have the ball a lot more than we will, so we’re going to have to make sure that our defensive shape is good,” Reynolds said. “I think probably the biggest part is recovering. We just played Sunday and then we played today and then we got to turn around and play Friday. We’re at the end of the season and now we’ve got to play more games and in a shorter amount of time, and that’s hard.”