Free State High boys soccer coach Jason Pendleton isn't about to buy into the "just happy to be there" adage so often attached to first-time state appearances.
The Firebirds (12-5-1) will meet Shawnee Mission South (15-3) at 7 tonight at Shawnee Mission Complex in the Class 6A state quarterfinals. The complex is located at 95th and Nieman in Overland Park.
Free State had never won a postseason soccer game until last week during regionals. The Firebirds beat Emporia, 3-1, and Topeka Washburn Rural, 2-1, in overtime to advance.
"We don't want to be content and satisfied with what we've accomplished," Pendleton said. "You never know when that next opportunity to compete for a state championship is going to come. We're extremely motivated and want to advance. We still feel like we're searching for some respect around the state and that's also motivating."
Free State should have SM South's respect. The Firebirds beat the Raiders, 2-0, three weeks ago on two goals by Nick Giannakis. It was the sixth shutout of the season for the Firebirds, who haven't blanked an opponent since.
"It certainly gives us confidence that we can play with this team," Pendleton said of the win over SM South. "We realize they probably took us a little light the first time around and we'll get a better effort."
SM South reached the quarterfinals with a 3-2 victory over Olathe South in the regional final. Stefan Spong had two goals to lead the Raiders.
"They like to possess the ball, play the wings and they are real athletic," Pendleton said.
Free State is led by senior midfielder Nick Ens, who has a school-record 20 goals for the season with two coming in postseason. Ens scored the game-winning goal in OT against Washburn Rural and had the go-ahead goal against Emporia.
Giannakis also has two postseason goals. Bryan Spangler has Free State's other goal, which came on a penalty kick against Emporia.
"Any time we've been mentally ready to play we've battled to the end," Pendleton said.
Free State has had a following during its run in postseason. Firebird boosters were tail-gating in Washburn Rural's parking lot before Thursday's game.
"We've had great support from parents and the student body all year," Pendleton said. "I would anticipate a huge crowd for us. A bunch of community members have asked me when and where the game is. We expect a big Lawrence contingent rooting for us."
The FSHS-SM South winner will advance to the state semifinals on Friday at Shawnee Mission Complex.