Bishop Carroll’s girls soccer team lost one of its best players, junior forward Shelby Lopez, at the beginning of the month. It’s depth made few strategic adjustments necessary.
The emotional adjustments weren’t quite as seamless, but the Golden Eagles didn’t have time to wallow, since they were playing perhaps the state’s best team the following day.
Carroll lost that game but hasn’t lost since, and it takes a 17-2 record into the Class 5A semifinals in Emporia, where the Eagles meet Blue Valley Southwest on Friday night.
Lopez suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a loss to Kapaun Mount Carmel, forcing Carroll to make a postseason push without arguably its most dynamic playmaker.
“I could have used any kind of help I could have gotten then,” Carroll coach Greg Rauch said. “In retrospect, it was good that we played the next day because, man, I know I had a sleepless night just thinking about it. But (having) business to attend to the next day made it so we had less time to really sit back and feel sorry for ourselves.
“There was just nothing positive. Obviously, heartbreaking for Shelby. It was really just bad, but I think if we had a week off, I don’t think that really would have helped except for the psychological healing.”
Lopez’s injury was the most deflating point of Carroll’s season, but presented a situation to which the Eagles had grown almost accustomed.
They had previously lost starters Victoria Reggeti and Michaela Cinotto to knee injuries, casting doubt on a season in which Carroll expected improvement following three consecutive appearances in the 5A third-place game.
Lopez has missed seven games but is still Carroll’s second-leading scorer with 13 goals and six assists. Between Lopez, Riggeti and Cinotto, Carroll has lost more than 35 percent of its 109 combined goals and assists.
“It’s hard,” Carroll midfielder Maria Walden said. “At first we were shaken up. We had a game right after that we were trying to get focused for, but we were all still trying to figure out what to do when we lost a good forward. But we came together again. We have good players to put in that are as good, and we work hard together.”
While some players took on expanded roles, no one had to step away from her comfort zone. The system operated mostly as smoothly without the injured players because the other starters increased their output and the backups were comfortable with additional playing time.
“The players that play here realize that they don’t necessarily get a ton of individual attention,” Rauch said. “If we’re winning big and I can get somebody else minutes, that’s what happens. It’s always what’s best for the group, and I think they’ve bought into that. Of course, it’s fine if someone were to step up – Maria, for example, has really been shining. But all the rest around her are doing their jobs to make her job easier.”
Walden, a center-midfielder who has four game-winners, including in the quarterfinals against Eisenhower, became the focal point of the offense. She quickly recognized a need to do more with her versatility, and she has become Carroll’s leading scorer with 15 goals.
“Just got to stay aggressive,” Walden said. “You can never look down. If they score on you – Eisenhower scored on us – but you have to stay aggressive and keep playing together. I kind of had to step up. I usually like to run around the place and try to get forward, but I had to stay central.”
Captain Emily Woods gave the Eagles another strong scorer while senior defender Baylee Vaughn and junior goalkeeper Jami Reichenberger were catalysts in a shutdown attack that surrendered nine goals all season.
Those players became increasingly reliable during a season where Carroll was becoming unsure of what or whom they could depend on.
“We didn’t have to change anything formational or anything like that,” Rauch said. “The thing is, the caliber of players here, I’m very fortunate to have the depth. The players have all seen each other, and it’s key that they practice together year ‘round. The very first thing that we said was, ‘I don’t want someone to be Shelby, I want you to be you.’
“It’s very good to have that to rely on, because otherwise the dream just crumbles with one injury.”