2018 was an extremely competitive year in the Wichita area.
More than a handful of teams were legitimate contenders for spots in the Kansas high school girls soccer state playoffs. And along with that, star players arose.
Here are the selections for the Eagle's 2018 All-Metro team.
Mary Clair Boulanger - Kapaun, Center Back, Senior
Boulanger provided Kapaun with a sense of security in the back in 2018.
The Crusaders had a strong year, finishing third in a tight City League race and reaching the state quarterfinals against Maize. Boulanger was one of the biggest reasons.
Kapaun allowed just 12 goals all season as Boulanger patrolled the back line and protected the 18-yard box.
"I feel like we really clicked as a team this year," Boulanger said. “Everyone trusted each other. We all wanted to do our best for each other.”
She also played with her sister, Molly. Mary Clair and Molly were one of four pairs of siblings in the Kapaun starting lineup this season.
Mary Clair said that was an experience she won't soon forget.
"We definitely didn’t always get along, but it was awesome to be able to share the happy, exciting experiences with her," she said of playing with her sister.
Nayeli Gallo - North, Center Attacking Midfielder, Senior
There is something about the Gallo name.
After watching her sister, Dora, have wild success at North and make it to Kansas State, Nayeli led the City League in goals and points for the majority of the season. She finished with 30 goals, 14 assists and 74 points.
Only two other players from the City League and AVCTL eclipsed 70 points.
"It was challenging, me building up with my team each and every day at practices, trying to help them out to help me out," Gallo said. “It was definitely one of the most challenging things to do.”
Gallo battled with injuries throughout the first few years of her high school career. She suffered back-to-back concussions as a sophomore and sat out for much of her junior year, but bounced back nicely.
Gallo scored at least three goals in six games, including three against East — one of Wichita's best defenses — in the North Cup final.
"I remember at the beginning of the season, (my parents) asked me, ‘What’s one of your goals?’ " Gallo said. “I said, ‘Definitely to get first in the City League.’ ”
Emma Girtz - Valley Center, Center Midfielder, Senior
Girtz was the maestro to Valley Center's calculated attack.
An AVCTL II first team and All-State second team selection, Girtz offered a rare collection of ball skills, poise and patience for the Hornets that ended with a 14-2-1 season and a share of the league title.
Girtz scored eight goals with 10 assists for 26 points in 2018. Although she didn't have the eye-popping numbers, coach Steen Danielsen called her one of the most special student-athletes he has coached.
"Soccer kind of came second for us," Girtz said. “First, we were a family. Practices and team bonding, everything we did was just fun, and then winning just kind of came with part of the fun that we had.”
She was part of a balanced attack that included All-Metro candidates Sydney Martens, Emily Breault and Haley Sparks.
In an area that consistently beat up on itself with plenty of talented teams, Valley Center was one of the most unscathed. Girtz credited that to the camaraderie the group created throughout the year.
"We did paint twister, dart wars," Girtz said. “We just did so many random things that so many other teams probably didn’t do. That just kind of stands out to me for Valley Center.”
Emily Jensen - Northwest, Striker, Senior
Jensen was absolutely lethal for the Grizzlies.
Jensen finished as the leading goal-scorer in the Wichita area in 2018 with 37 goals in 16 games. She also added 11 assists for 85 points, tying Collegiate's Maddie Reed for the area high.
With Reed, Jensen led the area with 5.3 points per game and put up monster numbers against plenty of opponents.
She scored eight against Southeast, six on West, four on South and three on Heights, North and Trinity. She said composure in front of goal is the key to her success.
"I just realized that when I had the ball at my feet, I had to finish," Jensen said. “That was my team. That was my responsibility, and that’s what I had to do. That was the goal, and that’s what I did.”
Jensen is committed to play at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
"Going to Kansas City (is the most exciting part)," she said. “Being with the new girls and the family atmosphere that they have, I’m excited.”
Ashlyn Lakin - Maize, Center Back, Senior
Lakin was, and has been, one of Wichita's premier defenders.
Lakin led the Maize defense, which gave up just 19 goals all season and finished the year with only three losses and a third-place finish in Class 5A. It was Maize's 11th straight appearance in the state semifinals.
She worked alongside fellow senior Bailey Stedman, who served as the Eagles' vocal leader. Lakin provided the anchor on the field.
She also caught national headlines in 2018 with her dangerous flip throw-in, which snagged two goals on the road against rival Maize South.
Lakin has signed to continue her soccer career at Emporia State.
Brianna Moore - Derby, Striker, Freshman
There might not be a more promising prospect in the Wichita area.
Moore led AVCTL I with 25 goals in her freshman season, breaking the Derby record with two in the regional final against North.
Moore helped Derby to a sub-state appearance and a four-loss season in her first high school campaign.
"I just kind of got it done by my teammates and working together and everybody helping each other," she said. “That’s what the sport is about, is playing as a team. I got it from my team and my self skill.”
Having the season she had, Moore will be projected to produce even more so into her future as a Panther. She said the transition into high school soccer was made easier with some help from her corner.
“My sisters were a big help and my family,” Moore said. “My sister played on the team also all four years, so I just kind of learned from her and watched her games and got through it by her.”
Angela Palmer - Maize South, Center Attacking Midfielder, Sophomore
Palmer supplied the sauce.
With an outrageous array of dribbling skill, Palmer fooled defender throughout her sophomore season — her first as a Maverick.
Palmer started her high school career at Maize with her sister, Elizabeth, but transferred across town to play with her childhood friends.
That had a massive payoff with 19 goals and 18 assists in 18 games. She had the second-most assists in the area. She also finished with 56 points, fourth-most of all All-Metro eligible players.
“When you’re playing with teammates as good as I had and with people who work so well off the ball, it’s easy to end up with that many,” Palmer said.
All that helped the Mavericks to a regional final appearance, a 15-2-1 record and a share of the AVCTL II title.
"It’s really fun because I know it’s not over yet," she said. “We’re just getting started.
“A lot of people were expecting us to have a rebuilding year, so we were kind of the underdog, but we ended up having a really successful season. So it was really fun just seeing what we could create for ourselves.”
Maddie Reed - Collegiate, Center Attacking Midfielder, Junior
Reed had a roaring end to her junior season that pushed her to the top of the Wichita area's points leaderboard.
She finished with 31 goals and 23 assists in 16 games, for a total of 85 points and 5.3 points per game — from the midfield.
"I like to take my chances," she said. “When I have the ball at my feet, I like to go and attack as fast as I can. (My teammates) would normally pass me the ball, so I would always try to get in good areas to help them out.”
Still, Reed credited her Collegiate teammates. The Spartans finished the season 12-4 with a plus-46 goal differential, which was a top 10 mark in the Wichita area.
Collegiate also beat Andover Central 1-0, and Reed scored the game winner off a free kick. The Spartans had never beaten the Jaguars in the school’s history.
“They made me look good, I made them look good,” Reed said. “Our offense was really strong this year, and I was really glad I could contribute to that.”
Maguire Sullivan - Carroll, Center Defending Midfielder, Senior
Sullivan might be the highest-regarded player in the Wichita area.
After jumping onto the scene as a freshman at Carroll, Sullivan has bolstered her reputation with the Eagles with her fourth All-Metro selection.
Sullivan moved to the midfield after three years in defense and thrived. She served as the Eagles' fifth defender while offering an instant spark to the offense when she came forward.
She finished her senior season with seven goals and an assist. She led an injury-laden Carroll group to the Class 5A semifinals after a runner-up finish in the City League.
Sullivan will go down as one of the most accomplished players in Wichita girls soccer history, and her play has earned her a scholarship at Kansas State.
Maria Vega - East, Goalkeeper, Junior
After transferring from Valley Center, Vega came in and provided the Aces with moments of magic.
In the City League championship game, Vega preserved the tie, and East's eventual title, with a one-handed save against the post against Carroll's Khloe Schuckman.
She said there were some challenges going from Valley Center to East at first.
“Going from a school with no diversity and only a couple of friends to going to a school with 6,000 people was just really big,” Vega said. “But I had already played with a lot of the soccer team, so it made it a lot easier.”
Vega finished her first season in the City League with 29 saves and was often called upon to be the last resort in a defense that allowed just one goal in City League play.
She said it is special to be named to the All-Metro team.
"I didn’t even know this was a team, so to find out that I made it, that means a lot because I work so hard and train all the time," Vega said. “So to get recognized means a lot.”
Brynn Walker - East, Center Back, Junior
Walker might be the most powerful player in Wichita.
Providing a fierce tenacity to the Aces’ defense was vital to East’s success in 2018. Coach Dylan Gruntzel said Walker was called upon to defend the opponent’s best player every game.
That included Carroll freshman Khloe Schuckman in the City League title game. Walker held her and the rest of the Eagles’ stout offense scoreless for more than 100 minutes of game time.
Walker said communication was key.
“If we didn’t get scored on, they couldn’t necessarily win,” Walker said. “So we made sure our defense was really strong, and if our offense was off, the defense was always on, so our team could depend on us.”
All of this came after East started the season 1-3 in the Titan Classic. The Aces changed their formation and didn’t lose again until the state quarterfinals against No. 1 Washburn Rural.
“At the beginning we were all kind of like, ‘Uhh, not again,’ ” Walker said. “My freshman year was really bad, so we thought that might be the path we were on, but we turned it around quickly.”
Jay Holmes - Maize, Coach of the Year
Maize lost more than 100 goals in two years, but the streak continued.
The Eagles made it back to the state semifinals for the 11th straight season without a prolific goal-scorer. Last year, it was All-Metro selection Makayla Toth, and the year before, it was Katie McClure.
This year, the Eagles relied on everyone.
Maize had eight players score at least five goals but none who had more than 16.
“We didn’t have that one go-to forward,” Holmes said. “But we primarily played really solid defense throughout the course of the year, and that’s what helped generate our offense.”
The Eagles won AVCTL I allowing just one goal in league play. Holmes earned his 200th win as coach, and they beat Kapaun 2-0 to get back to the semis. Maize lost in the semifinals but beat Carroll to clinch third in Class 5A.
Holmes said it was quite the accomplishment just to get to that position.
“This team was probably projected at the beginning of the season of having a winning record but certainly not the winning record that we attained,” he said. “The competition that we played and the tenacity and passion with which this team played was exceptional to me.”