Wings coach LeBaron Hollimon has let the hair on his mostly shaved head grow a bit, and it's coming in with a tinge of gray.
Guiding a team that has been close to so many season-altering victories can put extra strain on a coach, and while Hollimon is upbeat, the effects of a difficult inaugural season are showing.
For the second time in less than a week, Wichita was within a goal of beating the MISL-leading Milwaukee Wave. For the second time, the goal didn't come, as the Wings fell 16-13 on Thursday at Hartman Arena.
The Wings weathered a barrage of Milwaukee goals in the second quarter to get within a shot of tying it late, another close call in a season full of them. Wichita is 6-10 with seven losses by three points or fewer.
"I'm not going to lie — yeah, there's times I get so frustrated," Hollimon said. "But I just have to make sure I keep things in perspective. Don't let the highs get too high or the lows get too low."
Many of the close losses have involved the Wings facing a significant early deficit before rallying in the fourth quarter.
Thursday, Wichita had a 4-2 lead after Brian Cushing's goal in the second quarter. Then Milwaukee began a scoring surge that didn't last long but was seemingly endless. The Wave scored four goals in less than two minutes to take a 10-4 lead.
Wichita was re-energized by a physical altercation in the corner than inolved several players and livened the crowd. The melee gave the Wings an emotional lift and also something tangible to build on a 4-on-3 advantage that victor Quiroz cashed in with a three-point goal that made it 10-7.
"That's what this team is made of," Hollimon said. "We can't wait to be backed into a corner, though before we come out with that sort of energy and enthusiasm. We have to find a reason to want to play that way from the beginning."
The physical play didn't end in the second quarter. With Wichita rallying in the fourth, Kevin Ten Eyck became tangled up with a Milwaukee player, eventually earning an ejection for tripping.
Milwaukee captain Greg Howes charged Ten Eyck from behind and his hands made contact with Ten Eyck's face. Howes wasn't punished and while Ten Eyck didn't dispute the ejection when it happened, he clarified his intentions later.
"I just went down for a tackle because I thought I could get some of the ball and slow down the play," Ten Eyck said. "Obviously, according to the ref I didn't. I'm not really sure what happened. I got pushed from the back, pushed from the front, and I was just trying to protect my face."
Howes, who embraced being a villain to Wings fans during the last three games by gesturing to them after goals, seemed more sure than Ten Eyck acted maliciously.
"I don't get blue cards, don't get red cards," Howes said. "But when guys go out and intentionally try to hurt your guys and your family, it's time to step up and let them know you're not going to accept that."
Larry Inlow's three pointer with Wichita employing a sixth attacker cut Milwaukee's lead to 16-13 with about three minutes to go. The Wings, who were without injured players Alargie Jobe and Freddie Moojen, as well as Ten Eyck had an extra player for most of that time. But Milwaukee's defense sagged and prevented Wichita from getting a clear look at a three-point shot.
Scoring—1. Milwaukee, Leite (Terminesi), 5:05; 2. Wichita, Beasley (Moseley), 11:37.
Scoring—3. Wichita, Cushing (Worley), 0:30; 4. Milwaukee, Oli—eiro (unassisted), 7:38; 5. Milwaukee, Leite (unassisted), 7:59; 6. Milwaukee, Terminesi (Perera), 8:23; 7. Milwaukee, Howes (Terminesi), 9:29; 8. Wichita, Quiroz 3-pt (Ten Eyck), 12:47; 9. Milwaukee, Greenfield (Howes), 13:52. Penalties—Milwaukee, Oli—eiro (pushing), 10:49; Milwaukee, Terminesi (pushing), 10:49; Wichita, Perez (pushing), 10:49.
Scoring—10. Milwaukee, Howes (unassisted), 1:26; 11. Wichita, Quiroz 3-pt (unassisted), 13:26.
Scoring—12. Milwaukee, Perera (unassisted), 2:33; 13. Wichita, Inlow 3-pt, extra attacker (unassisted), 11:56. Penalties—Wichita, Ten Eyck (tripping, violent conduct red card), 7:54; Milwaukee, Feenstra (GK foul), 7:54; Milwaukee, Rodrigues (pushing), 7:54.
Power play—Milwaukee 0 for 0, Wichita 0 for 1.
Shots—Milwaukee 13 shots on goal, 9 blocked, 22 total; Wichita 21 shots on goal, 23 blocked, 44 total.
Saves—Milwaukee, Feenstra 16 saves on 21 shots; Wichita, Carvalho 5 saves on 13 shots.
T—1:52. A—2,000 (est.).