Watching junior Saige Baalman in goal for the Maize girls soccer team, you see the reflexes, the positioning, and the command of a veteran goalkeeper.
In reality, the Titan Classic championship on Saturday versus Kapaun Mount Carmel was just the fourth game of her first season starting in goal.
Baalman did not spend years honing her soccer skills (she’s also a starter on Maize’s volleyball and basketball teams), she just makes it look that way and she was at her best on Saturday in Maize’s 5-0 victory to claim its fourth straight Titan Classic championship.
“Saige made all the difference in the world today in goal,” Maize coach Jay Holmes said. “Kapaun probably had 10 corner kicks and she cleaned them all up and thwarted any chance they had. She’s just a natural back there.”
It’s unclear to Baalman what has allowed her to excel, but there is clearly some skills that have transitioned over from her other sports.
Take the corner kicks, for instance. Baalman is quick to track the flight of the ball like she does in volleyball. A crowded box doesn’t bother her after fighting for rebounds in basketball. Then Baalman terminates the threat by jumping and using a soft pair of hands to corral the ball.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Baalman said. “I think being raised with two older brothers and fighting with them growing up, and sports are something I’ve been doing all my life.”
With Baalman as their stone wall, the Eagles were free to take chances up top with forwards Katie McClure, Paige Swanson and Makayla Toth.
The trio scored four of Maize’s five goals — Hadley Davis scored the other — and created two of the goals with deft touch on combinations that left the recipient with an open shot against an out-of-position goalkeeper.
“Our coach always tells us that assists actually feel better than the goals,” Swanson said, ‘because you’re making your teammates look good, which makes the team look good.”
For a goal-scoring hound like McClure, who routinely draws two defenders, the quick give-and-go pass has been wildly effective.
“The defense gets so thrown off by those,” McClure said. “The defense can’t really check us as close because we have so many good players. We have that team chemistry and it works a lot better than having to keep going around defenders.”
It was the third straight season the Crusaders have lost to Maize in the tournament final.
While Kapaun cannot claim to have outplayed Maize, it can claim the play was closer than the final score. The Crusaders produced as many, if not more, threatening opportunities, but whether it was by Baalman’s work or their own doing, few resulted in shots.
That difference was put in stark contrast by Maize, as it capitalized on its opportunities.
“We just didn’t finish our chances,” Kapaun coach Alan Shepherd said. “We put together a pretty good game and we created some chances, we just couldn’t put them in the back of the net.”
Maize 5, Kapaun 0
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Winfield 2, South 1
Derby 3, Hutchinson 2
Salina Central 3, East 2
Heights 4, Northwest 2
Southeast 6, Campus 0