GODDARD – The fate of the Kapaun Mount Carmel girls soccer team would be determined by seven freshmen that started Thursday’s Class 5A regional championship game at Eisenhower.
It was a gamble coach Alan Shepherd was willing to take to defend the Crusaders’ stretch of regional dominance, even if it meant sending seven rookies into adversity on the road against a 13-win team.
When put to the test, Kapaun’s freshman class rose to the challenge and helped deliver a 4-3 victory over Eisenhower to secure the program’s 15th regional title in the last 17 seasons.
“We have tradition and they have to live up to that tradition,” Shepherd said. “I know it’s in the back of their minds. We talk about it a lot and I know they’re thinking about it. I told them they’re not freshmen anymore. We need them to be sophomores now.”
The two sides produced a wildly entertaining game that saw Kapaun take a two-goal lead twice with Eisenhower erasing one of them and playing the final nine minutes with the possibility of doing it again.
Five goals came off corner kicks, which became the most dangerous weapon for both teams with Grace Hagan and Michaela Dreiling providing service for Kapaun and Heather Bondie doing the same for Eisenhower. Many, however, came about after defensive errors, as Eisenhower failed to clear twice. Kapaun committed the same mistake once.
After falling behind 2-0 in 30 minutes, Eisenhower clawed back with a goal before halftime and then equalized on a gorgeous counter two minutes into the second half.
The Tigers caught Kapaun’s defense pushed forward on a corner, as Brynn Suddeth made the perfect through pass and Lauren Boese made the perfect run to give Eisenhower a tied game with all of the momentum.
“If I could draw up a perfect counter, I don’t think I could draw it up that well,” Eisenhower coach Brandon Sommer said.
But a failed clearance – Eisenhower keeper Kensey Arlt couldn’t grasp Michaela Dreiling’s corner kick – allowed Sierra Fury, one of Kapaun’s seven freshmen, to nudge in the go-ahead goal in the 46th minute.
Fourteen minutes later, Fury scored again in what amounted to be the game-winner. This time she was the recipient of a through ball played by Hagan that led her directly to the goal, where Fury was able to convert.
“It was such a back and forth game,” Hagan said. “The emotions were definitely running high, so it was hard to focus on our concentration. Coach has been critiquing us a lot lately in that and he’s threatened us with running.”
Shepherd feared the type of letup that occurred in the 71st minute, when Kapaun allowed another goal in from a corner that ricocheted off Eisenhower’s Madison Douglass.
But Eisenhower couldn’t muster another quality chance and saw its season come to a close.
“It was certainly a rollercoaster kind of game,” Sommer said. “I was proud of the girls for being tenacious and fighting their way back into it. They were out there working hard for each other.”
For Kapaun (12-6), which will play in a 5A quarterfinal game on Tuesday, the tradition carries on.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure that’s put on us,” Fury said. “But we just have to keep working hard and working together to make sure we do our best.”
First half – Kapaun, Hagan (unassisted); Kapaun, Kelly (Hagan); Eisenhower, Wedel (Bondie). Second half – Eisenhower, L. Boese (Suddeth); Kapaun, Fury (Dreiling); Kapaun, Fury (unassisted); Eisenhower, Douglass (Bondie). Shots – Kapaun 6-4–10, Eisenhower 2-3–5. Saves – Kapaun, Michaelis 1-3–4; Eisenhower, Arlt 4-2–6.