The Free State High boys soccer team has played in a regional championship game many times during the 13-year history of the program.
But never before have the stakes been quite so high.
In addition to earning a berth in the Class 6A state quarterfinals — a place the team has been twice (2001 and 2005) but never farther — a victory today would give the Firebirds their highest single-season win total in school history.
At 13-4, Free State enters today’s game against Manhattan High at FSHS with a share of the current school record.
But because Manhattan presents such a strong challenge, the Firebirds are not focusing as much on going for win No. 14 as they are on getting through to the next round.
Manhattan (10-5-2) advanced to the regional title game with an 8-1 victory against Topeka High on Tuesday.
Free State reached this point with a convincing 4-0 victory against Junction City on Monday. Despite the shutout — Free State’s 10th of the season — the Firebirds were not putting too much stock in their first-round performance.
“Junction City’s a much-improved team,” Free State coach Jason Pendleton said. “They’re organized and they’re very well-coached. They just don’t have quite the athletes that we’ll see against Manhattan and that’s going to be a big-time challenge for us.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at the FSHS soccer field. The winner advances to the quarterfinals, which will be played Tuesday.