Hoping for a game against the program that has eight consecutive regional championships, eight consecutive semifinal appearances and has defeated you seven times in the last four seasons sounds like a dangerous proposition.
Not to the girls soccer team from Northwest, which is ecstatic to draw Maize in Thursday’s Class 6A regional championship game. After stunning the Eagles 3-0 back in March, Northwest felt the wrath of Maize in a 5-1 thumping three weeks ago.
Now the rivals will meet for a third time in Maize to decide whose season continues.
“We got it handed to us last time we played them, so we’re looking for some revenge,” Northwest senior captain Ashton Taylor said. “We’re excited to play them again. We want to show them what we’re made of.”
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The first two games of the series this season exposed the winning game plans for both sides.
When Northwest (12-5) won, it had 10 players behind the ball on defense and created a traffic jam in the areas where Maize likes to operate. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were able to counter with Lexi Clark in the middle playing dangerous balls through to the speedy threesome of Paige Achey, Katie Cramer, and Emily Jensen.
When Maize (16-1) won, Tanna Benefiel was crucial playing long balls out of the back, Maize’s speed down the flanks, and chemistry between Paige Swanson and Katie McClure up top overwhelmed Northwest.
“We’ll know in the first 15 minutes of the game what kind of game it’s going to be,” Northwest coach Bobby Bribiesca said. “We love playing Maize, so I’m hoping we show up because we’re good. We just have to play good.”
With both teams possessing dangerous offenses — Maize has 121 goals (7.12 per game), Northwest 94 (5.53) — the deciding factor may be which team is better at maintaining possession of the ball in the midfield.
“We don’t want to just defend this game,” Bribiesca said. “We want to possess and when we get fast breaks we want to get out and utilize our speed and put them in the defensive mode. Right now we’re playing really well with our front three runners, so hopefully we can sneak a few goals in.”
League foes play again — Class 5A also has a regional title between teams meeting for a third time, as Andover Central (11-5-1) is set to travel to Maize South (14-3).
While the Mavericks have won both games — a shootout victory in the McPherson tournament and a 2-0 win on April 23 — the matchup has proven to be a competitive one.
“We’re pretty hyped about it and I think the girls are ready to go,” Central coach Stephanie Garcia said. “We know what they like to do, they know what we like to do. So we’re just trying to clean some things up and then see how it goes.”
It will be a clash of strengths, as Maize South in search of its second straight regional title behind a potent offense led by Ryann Burnett and Andover Central has had success this season because of a stout back line anchored by Missouri State commit Masen Stamp.
Other area games — Another intriguing 5A regional championship game features a power struggle between a surging program in Eisenhower (13-2-2) and an established one in Kapaun Mount Carmel (11-6).
Kapaun has won a regional title 14 times in the last 16 seasons with 11 semifinal appearances at the state tournament during that span. The Tigers, meanwhile, are vying for their second straight regional title.
Another 5A regional title game has City League rivals Heights and Bishop Carroll squaring off in a rematch of the April 7 league game that saw the Eagles win 4-0. Although Carroll (16-1) remains the favorite, Heights has pieced together a 7-2-1 record in its last 10 games, including a pair of impressive wins over Dodge City and Garden City.
The other regional title game in the area is also a rematch, as Valley Center (12-3-2) and its sturdy defense will look to avenge a 1-0 loss in the season-opener to Newton (12-4-1) and its goal-scoring maestro Brooklyn Entz.
Derby (13-3-1) will host Garden City (13-4) looking for back-to-back regional championships after winning the program’s first in a decade last season.
In 4-1A, top seed McPherson (13-3-1) will look to take care of Rose Hill (8-9) for the second time this season and Trinity Academy, with its misleading 5-11 record after enduring a rigorous schedule, will attempt to topple a top seed in Winfield (12-5) for its sixth straight regional championship.