Maize South’s 2018 season could be seen one of two ways.
The Mavericks made school history last year, reaching the Class 5A state championship game. When they got there, Blue Valley Southwest was waiting. Maize South lost 6-0 in the most lopsided title game since St. Thomas Aquinas beat J.C. Harmon by the same score in 2014.
The Mavericks are choosing to go with the glass half-full argument, and they have good reason.
After beating Eisenhower and Great Bend to reach the state semifinals, the Mavericks came back to school and peers told them about their odds against Kansas City area power St. James Academy.
“Everyone said we were going to lose, that we had no chance” senior defender Jack Manske said. “That got us thinking, and we realized this was probably going to be the toughest game of our season. Because of that, we worked our butts off and got it done.”
The doubters had an argument coming in. St. James has been in operation since 2005. The Thunder have won five boys soccer state championships in that time, the first coming in 2009 and the latest in 2016 when they beat Blue Valley Southwest 3-1.
Maize South was going to be without its top scorer, Raul Gerhardus, and All-Metro center back Andrew Bliss.
Undermanned and unproven on the state tournament stage, Maize South pulled off one of the most outstanding feats in school history. The Mavericks held off St. James in regulation and, after three overtime periods, pushed the game through to penalty kicks.
They won 5-4.
“That lit a fire under our butts,” junior Landon Eskridge said. “People came in saying we didn’t deserve it or we wouldn’t get any further. We were looking at each other saying, ‘We actually can.’ We didn’t go into the game thinking we were the better team, which made us work harder, and I think the result showed who wanted it more.”
Although the win was historic for Maize South, it has become more of a rule than an exception for the Wichita area.
Buhler reached the Class 4-1A championship last season as well. In 2017, Bishop Carroll and Andover Central each came runners-up. In fact, 2016 was the only season since 2012 that a Wichita area team didn’t reach a championship game.
Kansas City has had its foot on Wichita in girls soccer since it was adopted as a sanctioned sport since 1993. Only one Wichita area team has won a title. But on the boys’ side, the gap is closing much more quickly, and 14 area teams have won championships.
“But at the same time, we can’t come into it thinking it’s going to be easier or that we’ve already done it, so we can do it again,” Eskridge said. “Every year is different, so we have to know that we need to keep putting the work in to get where we got last year.”
The Mavericks said last year’s title game was a bit of an embarrassment, but coach Rey Ramirez said Blue Valley Southwest’s 2018 roster was one of the best in Kansas high school soccer history.
Before the title game, Ramirez told his group how talented the Timberwolves would be. They made it to the semifinals as sophomores. They won state as juniors and did it again as seniors. Still, Maize South is motivated to get past the loss.
But the rest of the Wichita area won’t care about how Maize South feels coming into the 2019 season, especially AVCTL II rival Eisenhower.
Eisenhower was a goal away from moving on in the Class 5A postseason and knocking the Mavericks out. Together with Andover Central, Maize South and Eisenhower make up three of the best teams in the Wichita area ahead of the 2019 season. Last year, they shared the AVCTL II title.
“We’ve got to stay focused when we play those big games,” senior Cooper Joseph said. “We can’t shy away. We have to come out strong. Whoever comes out stronger in those first 10 minutes, they have the game.”
Joseph said he knows everyone has their eyes on the 5A runners-up, but they welcome the pressure and are out to show they weren’t a two-man band last year.
The Mavericks placed two onto the Eagle’s 2018 All-Metro team. Bliss, the Maize South center back, was perhaps the most game-changing player in the Wichita area, but Bryce Bowman was one of the best creators in the area, too.
Now, new leaders like Gerhardus, Eskridge and Joseph will have to step up in the final third and play a more well-rounded version of soccer. The Mavericks are excited for that but know that will change a lot of the tactics. Ramirez said that could be a good thing.
“If we can get everybody to improve 10-15 percent individually, then as a team, we’ve made up for one or two great players,” Ramirez said. “I think we’re there, and I think if we keep building on throughout the season, I think we’ll end up being an even better team than we were last year.”