Curt Wullschleger couldn’t find his breath, and he hadn’t even been running.
His head was spinning, his emotions were high. He tried gathering his players for a group photo, but his players were trying to gather him. He paused for a brief moment to collect himself and was doused with ice water. Like a kid on Christmas morning, his eyes lit up, and he let out a scream; it meant that much.
Wichita North won its first girls soccer regional champion since 2012 on Thursday after years of knocking on the door but being shunned back home. The Redskins, on their third meeting this season with their City League rival, beat Wichita East 2-1 to advance to the state quarterfinals.
“Those girls just fight so hard,” Wullschleger said. “To finally be able to break through against such a good team, man, they earned it.”
When senior Nayeli Gallo was asked how excited she was to see she had another crack at East, she grinned and put her hand over her mouth.
The first meeting between North and East this season was in the North Cup championship game. North couldn’t defend its home turf and lost 2-1; East took the title over the hosts for the second straight year.
The second meeting caused some controversy. In a virtual City League title elimination game, the contest had been pushed back several times because of inclement weather that rolled through the Wichita area for at least a week.
When it was finally played May 7, rain suspended play with 16:33 to go. East was up 1-0, and by KSHSAA rule, if a game reaches halftime before weather suspends play, the team leading is the winner and the game is called.
But that wasn’t how North saw it; North was held away from its first City League title in school history.
“We had to show them that our last game should have been finished,” Gallo said. “There was no lightning or thunder. I don’t see why we never played the rest of it, and I feel like our celebration was so strong and powerful because we deserved that last game and this game.”
North and East entered Thursday’s regional championship with the same record, 13-4-0. Senior Maria Salas was the difference.
Salas scored both goals for North. The first came just six minutes in as Salas found bouncing ball just inside the 18-yard box. She corralled it with her left foot and struck it with her right on a half volley that soared into the top left corner.
The second came just before halftime. Salas took a poor corner kick that deflected off East senior defender Brynn Walker at the near post and came right back to Salas. She took one touch a bit to her right, calculated her strike and put it into the back corner from outside the box and about 10 yards above the goal line.
She said she had been working on that shot in practice and knew the wind flying into the goal would help her.
“We’ve come up from nothing basically,” Salas said. “This was our year. This is our year. We fight with heart and strength.”
Of all the Wichita area’s 30 regional champions across baseball, softball and girls soccer, Wichita North’s celebration was among the most emotional. Athletic director Mike Church, who watched his final North High regional Thursday — he’s taking the vacant Heights AD job — hoisted the plaque in front of the team.
“You want this?” Church teased. “Come get it.”
North’s players snagged it and ran to the opposite side of the field the celebrate with their friends and families who had watched the deconstruction of their favorite team over the past three weeks all, against the same opponent.
Wullschleger said watching his 2019 group bring him his first girls soccer regional title as coach at North, they deserve to smile. North will go to Manhattan at 5 p.m. Tuesday for its state quarterfinal matchup.
“They had a belief from the very beginning,” he said. “This group has been through so much. We went through a three-car pile up on our way to Derby last year. We had a rough one out in Dodge City a couple of years back. To finally get over and hang a plaque on the wall is just really making me proud.”