At halftime, coach Jay Holmes addressed his team - a goal away from letting a stranglehold loose.
“He told us, ‘Let’s not lose this; we haven’t in a long time,’ ” senior captain Cammie Davis said.
Maize entered Monday with a 13-year league title streak. The Eagles hadn’t missed out on at least a share since its freshmen were about 2 years old. They kept that streak alive with a 2-1 win over Derby as Davis hit a left-footed shot from the top of the 18-yard box to add to her first half assist to junior Mallory Stegman.
“I’ve just been blessed with having talented athletes here and a bunch of girls that like to fight,” Holmes said. “We’ve had to win gritty at times, and today was a gritty win.”
Although Maize has one more league game to go, at home against 6-8-0 Hutchinson, the win clinched a share of the league championship. But maybe more important, it gave the Eagles confidence to pull through in a tight game.
Maize, by its lofty standards, is in a transition year with a young, but talented roster. The Eagles sit 10-3-1 and sixth in Class 5A Central/South Central. Each of their three losses have come by one goal and all to the best teams in the Wichita area: Kapaun Mt. Carmel, Valley Center and Bishop Carroll.
“We have come so close so many times, so it feels really good to get one like this,” Davis said.
Maize recently got a lot better, too. Senior center back Cheyenne Busker was out for almost all of the 2019 regular season with a partially torn right MCL. She came back to the pitch in weeks, not months, three games ago.
She made a massive impact in Monday’s title-clinching performance. With less than five minutes to play, Derby’s Marah Franke got in behind the Eagles’ defense. Busker chased her down and held the Panthers away from a late equalizer and extra time.
“You have to go in for every ball,” Busker said. “If it’s them versus you, you gotta go for it.”
Davis said she grew up playing alongside Busker. Her relentless attitude on the field is just her. It wasn’t taught.
“Cheyenne back is like a blessing from God,” Davis said. “She is someone I trust and someone I feel good about having back there. She’s always been a beast. That’s probably why she gets hurt so much is because she plays so recklessly, but I also think that’s what makes us so good.”
Last year, Maize took third in Class 5A for the third straight year with a 2-0 win over Bishop Carroll. The Eagles caught fire after a state quarterfinal home win over Kapaun, but in 2019, they will need help to host a final eight contest.
Here are the current 5A Central/South Central standings and the remaining contests:
- McPherson (14-1-0), vs. Buhler
- Valley Center (13-1-0), vs. Trinity Academy, vs. Salina South
- Bishop Carroll (13-1-0), vs. Wichita Northwest, at Wichita Heights
- Eisenhower (11-2-1), at Arkansas City, at Hutchinson
- Hays (9-1-4), vs. Nickerson, at Trinity Academy
- Maize (10-3-1), vs. Hutchinson, at Andover Central 78.125
Based on win percentage, Maize needs Hays and Eisenhower to lose at least one of their remaining two to jump to No. 4. Those four opponents have a 22-31-1 combined record, which leaves the Eagles’ chances of hosting a regional unlikely.
But Monday was about keeping legacy alive even when there was blood in the water.
During Maize’s streak of league titles, AVCTL I has seen some outstanding teams and players outside of the champs. Since 2006, Derby, Campus and Newton - the three other current league teams eligible for All-Metro selection - have produced 10 nominations.
Maize has 29 in that span.
“When I was 7, I would come and watch them play,” Davis said. “I’ve always known Maize is pretty good, but it’s just so cool to be a part of it now.”