After Free State High’s soccer team rolled 9-1 over Junction City in a 6A regional playoff game, it was unclear which aspect of the win was sweeter — simply notching the program’s first-ever playoff victory or the dominance the Firebirds displayed in doing so.
Either way, it was the best kind of problem for coach Kelly Barah and the Firebirds to have following their resounding victory on Tuesday night at FSHS.
“I think just getting the win is probably better,” Barah said. “Because the girls have worked so hard … from conditioning to two-a-days, everything. So to see it all come down to this victory, and with the style of play that we’ve been preaching all along is just beautiful to watch.”
“It’s amazing,” Abbey Casady said. “We all just can’t stop smiling.”
Barely more than a minute into the game, Maddie Dieker put the Firebirds (10-6-1) on top, 1-0, but the post-goal celebration was temporarily put on hold.
“Play like it’s zero-zero, white,” one FSHS player bellowed to her teammates.
The Firebirds relentlessly attacked for the entire first half, crisply executing passes and possessing the ball while barely allowing Junction City (6-10-1) to get past midfield.
Abbey Casady netted the second goal for FSHS halfway into the period, and only a minute later, Rylee Fuerst banged home a loose ball to give FSHS a commanding 3-0 lead.
And only a few minutes into the second half, Chelsea Casady found a wide-open Kylee Loneker, who buried a shot past the Blue Jays’ keeper Erika Goodwin.
Loneker scored again only two minutes later, barely redirecting a perfect cross from Abbey Casady with a header, which clanged off the far post and in.
“The past few weeks we’ve had really good practice sessions where the girls really are executing and going back to the fundamentals in the passing game,” Barah said. “It really showed tonight, and I hope we keep rolling like this.”
FSHS’s offensive display was far from finished. Margaux Gill soon found Hillary Yoder on a run, who streaked alone into the box and drilled one past Goodwin — who was peppered with shots all night, but still managed to make 18 saves.
Though the game was well in hand, the Firebirds continued to push the pace and the goals followed.
Freshman Alexa Harmon-Thomas — returning to the field after sitting out the past few games with an injury — used a few nifty moves to juke around defenders and netted three goals in less than eight minutes to balloon the lead to 9-0.
With such a strong attack and defense in front of her, Elena Auer only needed to make a few saves for FSHS, though the Blue Jays scored their only goal with 90-seconds left after a weird hop left Jamee Gray alone in the box.
The Firebirds, whose 10 wins mark the highest total in program history, will head to Manhattan to face No. 1 seed Manhattan at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re confident, but Barah says we’re a still blue collar team,” Loneker said. “We come out and play hard every single time. We don’t think of ourselves as the top dogs, we’re still the underdogs. We want to show people that we are something to believe in.”