There is a reason why Class 6A boys soccer championships are associated with Kansas City-area schools. Eleven of the past 14 champions are from Johnson County — none from Wichita.
Blue Valley North, three-time winners over the past 10 years, is known for playing a physical, fast style that dares opponents to keep up. But one Wichita-area school may have the size and athleticism to compete.
Northwest (18-1) has compiled 12 shutouts with a physical defense that has set it apart in the Wichita area. It faces Blue Valley North at 5 p.m. today in the state semifinals at Carpenter Stadium.
"I think we've got one of the most athletic teams in the state, and we use that to our advantage," Northwest forward Broc Cramer said. "It helps us get shutouts and get goals, and that's what we do best."
Northwest, coached by Bobby Bribiesca, was the last City League team to win a Class 6A title (1995). Bribiesca said at the beginning of the season that his junior class is the most talented group he's had in his time at Northwest. That includes Cramer, forward Austin Clifton (21 goals) and goalie Jonathan Lane.
"I think we have a good shot because we're athletes. I don't have any weak links on my starting lineup," Bribiesca said. "Every position seems to be playing well right now. I know they're good. I'm just looking forward to the challenge."
Clifton played center-midfield before Bribiesca switched him to forward at the beginning of the season. He said he wanted to be successful but didn't imagine he would be so dominant.
Bribiesca also made a change in the regional final that has paid off. He moved his biggest, strongest and most athletic player, Cramer, to forward from midfield to take pressure off of Clifton. In two games Cramer (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) has scored three goals.
"It's a lot better. He's a lot stronger than most guys," Clifton said. "We played with each other together in club soccer, and I know he's always there for me. The chemistry is a lot better."
Clifton also said that the pressure placed on him to score consistently is lessened because of the defense behind him. It is a defense led by sweeper Jake Carter and reinforced by Robert Rawlings, Troy Banderhoof and Austin Barnes.
"I have a great defense in front of me," Lane said. "If you look at the stats I haven't faced too many shots this year. That's the reason I've had so many shutouts. Our athleticism is pretty great, and we're all around on defense."
Clifton has a feeling that Blue Valley North won't be the least intimidated by the size, strength or the record of Northwest. They've played the top teams in the state, including Blue Valley West (18-1 and No. 1 seed) and St. Thomas Aquinas (16-3 and a 5A No. 1 seed).
"They're probably not going to be intimidated," Clifton said. "But they should be, because we have a good team this year, and I think we have a good chance to win. So if they're not intimidated then hopefully we can prove something Friday."