Without fail, there is a moment before every game the Trinity Academy girls soccer team plays without Maycee Bell where the other team scans the field and realizes the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year is not present.
“Every time you can tell that teams look at us as easier competition,” junior midfielder Ally Henderson said. “I honestly like it when teams overlook us because then we go out there and show them who we are, all of us, not just one or two players.”
While Bell was crucial in Trinity securing homefield advantage through the playoffs, the Knights made it to Friday’s Class 4-1A semifinal without their freshman standout playing in a 3-2 victory over Hays.
And Trinity (14-3) will be without Bell, who joined the U.S. girls under-17 team to play in Italy and Switzerland, when it plays DeSoto (14-3-2) at Topeka’s Hummer Sports Park at 7 p.m. Friday.
Still, coach Mark Brooks is confident Trinity can win its second championship in three years.
“I know without a doubt that we can still win with this team,” Brooks said adamantly. “Before even Maycee came aboard, I knew this team was going to be really, really good. She was just going to be icing on the cake. I have the utmost confidence in my girls and I fully believe we can take anybody.”
Trinity’s core relishes it when they perceive outsiders discredit them without Bell. The Knights are 5-2 this season without Bell playing, including a win over Topeka Hayden, the defending 4-1A champions and Trinity’s northern rival.
“I think that is when our season changed because Hayden has always been our biggest competition,” senior Hannah Smith said. “That’s when we realized if we can beat Hayden, then we’ve really accomplished something. We are actually really good.”
Henderson has risen to the occasion in Bell’s absence, scoring 16 of her team-high 31 goals this season in the seven games Bell hasn’t played this season.
The Knights also own a wealth of experience from that 2014 championship team. Elise Alexander is a two-way force in the middle for Trinity, while Hannah Hancock, Smith, Julia Rogg, Brooklyn Barclay, and Kaylee Friedberg are veteran difference-makers.
When Bell decided to play for Trinity, this was always part of the agreement: She could end up missing time, potentially the playoffs, due to her national-team obligations.
It has made for a unique challenge this season, one that Trinity feels it was prepared for. Now they have the platform to prove themselves once and for all and they’re ready for that too.
“I think it is kind of hard to start your season one way and then end it another way,” Friedberg said. “But I feel like we have girls all over the field that have stepped up and our team has grown from that. I feel like we’re still capable of winning and that’s still our goal.”
Other Wichita-area teams in the semifinals
Maize (18-0) vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (13-4-2) – Maize returns to the semifinals, this time in 5A, for the 12th straight season with the No. 1 attack (143 goals) in Kansas, which has produced at least five goals for the past 17 games. But standing in the way of the Eagles’ first championship is Aquinas, the most prestigious program in the state. Aquinas has won 15 championships, including the last six in Class 5A. The lone common opponent between the two is Maize South, which Aquinas put away 1-0 on the road. Maize trounced the Mavericks 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
Kapaun (15-4) vs. Mill Valley (18-1) – Kapaun, the undefeated City League champions, return to the Class 5A semifinals for just the second time since 2010 in Anthony Cantele’s first season at coach. Kapaun has won back-to-back thrilling games, a 1-0 victory over Valley Center and then winning in a shootout 4-3 over Newton in the quarterfinals. The Crusaders have featured a balanced attack this season with Sierra Fury (20 goals), Brenna Monty (16), and Nancy Vargas (11) leading the way. Mill Valley is back in the semifinals for the first time since 2013.
McPherson (15-2-1) vs. Miege (11-6-2) – The Bullpups avenged last season’s 4A championship-game loss to Topeka Hayden in a 4-2 victory over Hayden in the quarterfinals. It is the second straight season McPherson is playing in the semifinals, while Miege is back for the third straight time looking for its first win during that span. The Bullpups have been led this season by sophomore striker Aislinn Hughes, who has 23 goals.