Kapaun Mount Carmel senior soccer player Caroline Kastor has heard the words from coach Alan Shepherd several times, but never like the way she's been hearing them lately.
"There's just something, there's kind of a feeling," Kastor said. "I kind of got the chills earlier when he said 'state championship'. It just feels right this year."
Kapaun has reached the Class 5-1A semifinals in nine of the last 11 seasons but has never won a title. The Crusaders' seniors have finished second once and third twice.
This season, Kapaun has a favorable draw against Topeka Hayden today at 5 p.m. in Topeka. They have momentum due to a difficult schedule that prepared them for the rigors of the next two days.
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And they have a sense that this is finally The Year.
"I just think there's something about this team that wants to go up to state and win it," Shepherd said. "I also think we're in a pretty good position, seeding-wise. Not that Topeka Hayden is a bad team, I just think going into the state semis and not having to meet someone like a St. Thomas Aquinas helps us a little bit."
Maize is also looking for the Wichita area's first girls soccer title. The Eagles advanced to the semifinals with a 15-2-1 record despite losing their two best scorers, Tia Stovall and Leah Talley.
The offensive slack has been picked up by Blair Terry, Kelsey Lyden and Miranda Holmes, and Maize meets Blue Valley West in the 6A semis in Olathe tonight at 7.
"Last year, they were an essential part of the team with different responsibilities," Maize coach Jay Holmes said. "This year we needed them to be leaders offensively.... Collectively, they have done an awesome job of fulfilling that role for our team."
Like Maize, Kapaun has plenty of scoring options. The Crusaders have traditionally been most strong defensively, but their playmakers have carried them at times defensively and will be heavily relied upon this weekend.
Caroline Kastor is Kapaun's top scorer, but Taylor Kruse, Victoria Schimming and Kristen Rathert all have at least 10 goals. Five Kapaun players have double-digit assists.
"In those close games, it's reassuring knowing that goal can come from anyone on the field," Kastor said. "We're not looking to one person or two people or just to our three forwards to score. Especially at state, it can just come down to one little thing."
Kapaun, which won the outright City League title, is 16-3 with a schedule that included a 3-2 win over St. Thomas Aquinas, a nine-time champion. The Crusaders also played Maize, Salina Central and Missouri power Notre Dame de Sion.
"Our schedule really turned out to be one of the toughest schedules around," Shepherd said. "Playing those kind of teams and having that type of schedule has really kept us sharp. It just gives you the confidence to know where you're at and it shows you where your weaknesses are, too."