It would be difficult to find two rivals headed in more opposite directions.
Free State High’s girls soccer team has lost just two times this season and is ranked No. 10 in the Kansas Soccer Coaches Association’s All-Class rankings.
A few miles southeast, Lawrence High (2-11) just picked up its second victory of the season Tuesday, snapping an 11-game losing skid.
The Firebirds (9-2-2) have outscored their opponents 57-13 this season. The Lions have given up 69 goals and netted just 11.
No doubt, Free State is the clear favorite in the city showdown — set to begin at 6:30 tonight at FSHS — but Firebirds coach Kelly Barah said his team isn’t thinking about it.
“I have a group of girls that doesn’t really care about what their (the Lions’) season or ours has looked like. We’ve prided ourself in the fact that we take it one game at a time, so for us it’s just one more game,” Barah said.
“We’re not listening to the hype, but we also know it’s a rivalry game, so we’ll need to check our emotions and all of that kind of stuff.”
The good news for LHS, coach Janna Kepler said, is that neither statistics nor records are going to water down the Lions’ excitement when they take on the Firebirds.
Lawrence’s 2-0 road win Tuesday at Shawnee Mission North, the Lions’ first victory since March 27 and their only Sunflower League win, gave the team some much needed confidence.
“It’s great,” Kepler said, “because it made the girls realize that they still love to play the game, that they do have the capability to play in this league.”
LHS senior Merideth Warinner said the win couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We really needed a boost,” Warinner said. “I think we were starting to get down and some of us were starting to give up.”
The importance of the drought-halting victory, Lions senior Laura Falkenstein said, was temporary.
“Honestly, it doesn’t mean anything compared to (tonight),” Falkenstein said. “It’s a nice confidence booster, but Free State’s gonna be an incredibly tough opponent.”
The Firebirds, meanwhile, know their past goals, accolades and victories only hold so much weight. According to senior Kylee Loneker, they like to use the saying “You can look good on paper, but paper doesn’t win games.”
After FSHS lost, 5-0, Tuesday to undefeated No. 1 Olathe East, junior Margaux Gill said the Firebirds planned to use the loss as motivation the rest of the season. With the Lions on the schedule for Free State’s Senior Night, Gill expects a battle.
“Hopefully they’ll give us their best game, and we’ll, for sure, give them our best game,” she said.
Loneker said the city showdown has a way of producing drama.
“If you look at football, if you look at basketball, (the teams) always compete to their fullest capability, no matter what,” Loneker said. “You never know the outcome.”
Falkenstein figures the Firebirds are expecting to win. In a battle for bragging rights, she said the Lions will have to take that same approach.
“We can’t be thinking that we’re the lower opponent,” Falkenstein said.