Even before the start of the first game of the Kansas All-Girls Cup, the Kaw Valley Force 10U team was fired up to take a victory against the Kansas City Lightning. The Force made it a pre-tournament goal to make it to the finals, and the girls took a step closer to their goal in the first round by tying with the Lightning, 3-3, on Saturday.
"We feel we can win the tournament," coach Sarah Garcia said after the game. "The girls played aggressive, passed the ball well and didn't give up."
The Force got the ball in the opening face-off and drove down the field, with Alexa Harmon-Thomas driving to the goal and getting a shot off going wide right.
Lightning goalie Audrey Judd made two great stops early in the game to keep the game scoreless. On the other end, Force goalie Maren Kahler had a few great saves of her own.
The Force's defense kept the ball at their end of the field for much of the first half. After the Force turned the ball over, the Lightning capitalized by driving down the pitch and putting the first point on the board on a ball that slipped past Kahler and into the left corner of the goal.
Harmon-Thomas responded for the Force by taking the ball down the pitch and, using her height and speed, working the ball into the goal with a strong kick to tie the game at one a piece.
Before halftime, Harmon-Thomas gave the Force the lead with another strong kick into the middle of the net to put them up 2-1 at the break.
Soon after the start of the second half, the Lightning squeaked a ball past Force defender Olivia Hodison and goalie Rachel Nincehelser to tie the game back up at two apiece.
The referees started to tighten their calls late in the game. A penalty was called on the Lightning, but Kaitlin Dunbar overshot the kick.
Coach Garcia said despite the missed opportunity to add points to the board, Dunbar showed skill beyond her age throughout the game.
"Kaitlin demonstrated her great footwork today and really helped worked the ball inside to set up good shots," Garcia said.
Both goalies continued to play solid and kept the score tied until a little less than four minutes remained in the game.
The Force took the ball on an inbounds play and put it in the net, taking a one point lead into the final minutes.
As the Lightning coach increased his noise level, the girls increased their play and drove down the pitch and scored to even the game, 3-3.
Harmon-Thomas had one last chance to give the Force the lead but the Lightning showed the same toughness they showed all game and defended her kick to preserve the tie.
Hodison continued to play excellent defense, using her speed to get to the ball when it was in front of her goal, and Nincehelser had two great saves in the final minute to keep the score knotted and walk away with a tie against the Lightning.
"This team wants to win and in only their second game together as a team," said Garcia as her team looked to its second game of the day. "They showed great teamwork and passed the ball well to get to the goal."
On the weekend the Force went 3-1-1. In the next two games of pool play the Force used the homefield advantage to defeat the KCFC Alliance Freeze, 4-2, and the Topeka Select Freedom, 5-1, in route to an appearance in the finals of the 10U bracket.
The finals featured great defensive play on both sides but the Blaze edged out the Force who lost the close game, 1-0. The Omaha Arsenal Blaze took home 10U tournament first-place honors, but the Force acheived its tournament goal and made it to the finals for a second-place finish in the Kansas Cup.