Riding a recent hot streak into the Class 6A state quarterfinals, members of Lawrence High’s boys soccer team are familiar with what stands between them and a trip to the semifinals.
The Lions are unbeaten in their six matches since a 1-0 double-overtime home loss on Oct. 6 to Olathe South, their quarterfinal opponent tonight in Olathe. LHS will meet O-South at 7 tonight at the Olathe District Activity Center.
LHS coach Mike Murphy said even though the Falcons (15-3) were the last team to beat the Lions (8-7-3), knowing their opponent’s personnel and how they go about their business could be advantageous.
“I always appreciate when the schedule lines up to where you face teams in the playoffs that you played in the regular season,” Murphy said.
His team has disposed of two such opponents in the first two rounds and has gone 4-0-2 since last facing Olathe South. In that time, Murphy added, the Lions have improved their attack.
“We’re more creative on offense,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Lawrence’s senior goalkeeper, Tanner Click, agreed.
“I feel like our offense has really figured out what they’re doing,” he said. “Scoring has been easier, just because we’ve figured out our game plan, and our forwards have started to work together really well with our midfield.”
Murphy said the team’s top forwards, junior Robert Lyan and senior Zach Wustefeld, have been consistent threats for LHS in the second half of the season. In the midfield, Lawrence has juniors Gavin Fischer, Justin Riley and Johannes Reiber.
The coach said he will need all the Lions to be opportunistic, as they were in their double-overtime regional championship victory over Free State on Thursday.
“If we can do that, and put a ball in the goal, especially early, that would be another boost to our confidence,” Murphy said. “At the same time, we’re gonna be prepared to battle it out and, if we have to, win it in penalty kicks after the overtime.”
The Lions feel as though either type of match could work in their favor, Click said.
“Offensively, we’re a lot bigger threat than we were three weeks ago,” he said. “Defensively, we’ve been solid all year.”
The defense, which has put together seven shutouts this season, is led not only by Click, but also defenders senior Tanner Williams and sophomore Connor Henrichs, as well as senior Adrian Rivera and junior Dalen Reed.
It will be up to them to corral the Falcons’ Bryan Johnson and Nate Opperman, whom Murphy called two of the best forwards in the Sunflower League. Lawrence’s coach said the scoring duo has skill, size and athleticism.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to counter that with guys that are hungry and determined and tough,” Murphy said. “I’ve seen that all year ... I wouldn’t expect to see any changes out of our defense.”