East holds off Carroll to win City League outright
With three minutes left in regulation, Carroll seemed to have won the City League.
Freshman Khloe Schuckman tracked a ball down the right sideline and fired from a poor angle near the corner. It looked to be a cross, but the ball whipped in toward the near post. East goalkeeper Maria Vega was out of position.
Vega shifted back toward goal and reached her right hand out. Unbelievably, she caught the ball with one hand and pinned it to the post. Her momentum carried her into the goal, and the ball quivered on the post, but Vega kept it out.
"Somebody else took over my body right there," Vega said. "Some other East goalie spirit must have came over me."
That save proved to be the play of the game Thursday as East tied Carroll 1-1 in double overtime to clinch the City League outright for the first time since 2004.
East's league title comes in the middle of private school dominance. No Wichita public school had won a girls soccer league championship outright since 2003. Since, Carroll and Kapaun have won it 10 times outright and shared it three years.
Walker said Thursday night wasn't important for east but for all of USD 259.
"A lot of public schools have good programs, but Kapaun and Carroll consistently have top programs," she said. "We get overlooked a lot, so this is huge."
East had to work for it and get back to its roots.
Coming into last weekend's North Cup, the Aces hadn't allowed 10 goals all season, but in that tournament, they gave up seven, including five in one game. East isn't a particularly prolific scoring offense.
Anna Lasak scored for Carroll just a minute and a half into the game and a couple of minutes later, East's motor in the midfield, Melissa Martinez, went out with an injury. The outlook changed, coach Dylan Gruntzel said.
"We knew we needed to get one and kind of sit in and hope for the best," he said.
After Zoey Lee poked in the equalizer on a scramble inside the box, the Aces had to stop the league's top-scoring offense for more than 100 minutes of game time, and they did it. East booted balls downfield and seldom attacked the goal, but Vega, Walker and the rest of the East defense came through.
Carroll was without senior striker Hanleigh Allen, but Allen or not, they were the busiest players on the field.
"Carroll has loads of players," Gruntzel said. "Every 10 minutes, they were just rotating them out, just throwing fresh players at us. That got tough, but they held their own and showed how good they are in the moment, and I think that's going to be good for us going forward."
Schuckman, Carroll's near goal-scorer, was the most potent player on the pitch. Her pace was unmatched, and she entered the championship with 11 points in the past six games. The freshman will be a star in the City League, but Thursday, Walker shut her down.
Every time Schuckman found a seam down the sideline, Walker was there to box her out and cut out the attack.
"I always challenge Brynn," Gruntzel said. " 'Can you keep their best player off the board?' I think that's what works for her. That's her motivation."
Vega's motivation came from just being on the field this season. A transfer from Valley Center, 2018 is Vega's first year as a varsity starter, and she proved her worth Thursday. The post-pinning save was just one of her outstanding moments as she was called upon dozens of times to stop Carroll shots and get her defense aligned.
Gruntzel said he believes Vega is one of the top goalkeepers in Kansas. She was never noticed, but when the Aces have a day off, Vega asks Gruntzel if he will help her train.
"This is amazing," Vega said. "There was this feeling after we got the first goal, everything just tingled in my body. I just feel so exhilarated."
Much like East's 2018 season, its climb to the top of the City League standings has been one built over time. To start the season, the Aces went 0-3 at the Titan Classic tournament. Since, they are 11-0-2.
Two years ago, East won six games. In 2017, the Aces finished tied for second in the City League with a 14-2-1 record and a trip to the Class 6A tournament. They were one of only four teams to qualify.
Coming into the game, Carroll coach Greg Rauch applauded the work Gruntzel has done at East since taking over six years ago. Gruntzel said he hopes East's league championship can serve as an inspiration for the other USD 259 schools.
Northwest and Heights have finished has high as second in recent years, and North has seen some remarkable players come through its program. The gap is closing, and the monopoly is becoming a more level playing field.
"I think it shows you've got a shot," he said. "Every year you go into it, it's Kapaun or Carroll who is picked to win it. So it shows that we can compete, and we're coming."
East finishes the regular season 11-3-2 and 6-0-2 in City League play. Carroll goes 12-3-0 with a 6-1-1 league record. Both teams begin regional tournaments Monday.