Manhattan In few sports can one or two plays make a greater difference than in soccer. This time around, Free State High’s girls soccer team was on the wrong side of that hard lesson.
The Firebirds fell just shy of making their first-ever Class 6A state tournament appearance after falling, 2-1, to top-seeded Manhattan on Thursday night.
“It’s unbelievable,” FSHS coach Kelly Barah said.
The Firebirds (10-7-1) stormed out early and looked like the team that downed Junction City, 9-1, on Tuesday evening.
Free State jumped ahead 1-0 in the first minute after Kylee Loneker drilled a perfect cross off of a corner kick to Rylee Fuerst, who headed the ball into the net.
So much for momentum, though.
The Indians answered only minutes later, knocking home a loose ball in the box to tie the game, 1-1.
Though the Firebirds played their game — featuring strong ball possession, crisp passes and well-established scoring chances — Manhattan (16-2) managed to take a 2-1 lead before the end of the half that proved to be the eventual margin.
Free State had plenty of chances to tie the game after the break and had advantages in possession time and scoring opportunities, but couldn’t cash in.
“At the end of the day, it’s who finishes,” Barah said. “We had so many chances, which is the only disappointing part. If that’s the only problem (with how we played), I can live with that.”
Barah lamented the fact that seven seniors — Rachael Hodison, Amanda Moyer, Hillary Yoder, Erin Ice, Mckenzie Dever, Annie Libeer and Madisyn Warriner — won’t be able to continue on with the revitalized program.
But there’s little doubt that the future of Free State’s girls soccer program is bright.
Returning are freshman talents like Fuerst, Maddie Dieker, and Alexa Harmon-Thomas, and other standouts like Elena Auer, Abbey and Chelsea Casady, Margaux Gill, Amber Hicks and Loneker.
Throw in a cast of junior varsity players who went 11-1-3 and outscored opponents 72-6, and the best times still may be yet to come for the Firebirds.
“We’ll continue to build,” Barah said. “But these girls worked so hard all season. They deserved something better.”