You won’t find a 20-goal scorer on the Eisenhower girls soccer team. There is no one player that must be shut down. As a collective whole, the team won’t be blowing anybody away with their talent this deep into the playoffs.
And yet, here they are, playing in the Class 5A quarterfinals with a berth to the state tournament on the line Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Bishop Carroll.
“We just kind of came out of nowhere,” Eisenhower senior forward Jaclyn Means said. “I think we surprised some people, but people shouldn’t be taking us easy. We’re a good team. I think people should know who we are.”
Eisenhower has had success this season because it has the players in the midfield — like Kayleigh Moore, Lauren Boese, and Heather Bondie — to control possession. Means and Brynn Suddeth have provided support up top, while Cassidy Hardin anchors the back line.
Stacked in a league with Maize South, a team that has been ranked ahead of them all season, and Valley Center, last season’s 5A runner-up, it was the Tigers (13-4-1) who emerged as champions in AVCTL Division II.
If that wasn’t enough, then Eisenhower traveled three hours west and came home with a 2-1 overtime victory over Hays, who had won 13 games this season. It was the program’s first regional championship in its three-year history.
“That comes as part of building your program and earning that respect,” Eisenhower coach Brandon Sommer said. “You have to be consistent. When you’re trying to build a program, you’re expected to keep doing more.”
To do more this season, Eisenhower would have to knock off Carroll, a team it has lost to twice this season and enters with a sparkling 16-2 record.
“We know we can keep up with them,” Hardin said. “We’ve held them very far into the game without scoring, so we know what it takes.”
Eisenhower figures it has been surprising opponents all season, so what’s one more time?
“I’m picturing three more games,” Sommer said. “I know what the girls can do. They know what they should have done the last time we played them. They’ve learned from those experiences and I think we’re fully prepared to come out and attack and blow their socks off.”
The Panthers (13-4-1) are the lone team from this area to give Maize (17-1) fits in the past. Derby relies heavily on two things: Elizabeth DeCristoforo in goal, as the Panthers pack in their defense and forfeit possession in the midfield to Maize, and Jordan Eickelman, Derby’s freshman forward, striking on a counterattack.
“We know we can beat them, we just have to finish it off this time,” Derby junior defender Sara West said. “We’re a fast team and we’re a really strong team in the back, so I think that’s why we always play well against them.”
More than one goal is likely to be required to win this one, as both teams have dynamic offenses. Kapaun’s is engineered by Grace Hagan, and also includes Taryn Kruse, while Maize South has a potent attack with Hayden Burnett, Madison Adams, and Ryann Burnett.
“We’re here to prove a point that Maize South is able to beat some of the top teams in the state,” Maize South junior keeper Caroline Howard said. “I think we’re definitely wanting to prove ourselves.”
Another encouraging sign is the team is fully intact, as all-state players Taylor Billings (midfield) and Grace Linton (forward) have recovered from early-season injuries and have regained their health. Linton has scored 30 goals in 13 games headed into Tuesday’s game against visiting Thomas More Prep.
“Everybody believes that we can do it,” Trinity coach Tom Nykamp said. “Before it’s been, ‘I think we can do it.’ Now we know we can. It’s a different mindset from the girls and I think the confidence is there and the direction and vision is there. We’re excited.”