Olathe After Free State High’s girls soccer team lost to Olathe East, 5-0, on May 1, the players began discussing the Hawks and trying to figure out exactly what made them so good.
There wasn’t one particular thing, senior FSHS defender Amber Hicks said, that gave O-East its edge. Really, there were too many reasons for one to stand out.
At 7 tonight — three weeks since the first meeting — at Olathe’s College Boulevard Activity Center, Free State will try to solve the on-field conundrum that is unbeaten Olathe East in the Class 6A state quarterfinals.
FSHS coach Kelly Barah described the Hawks (18-0) as having the perfect combination of talent and athleticism. Throw in the fact that they play a physical brand of soccer, almost never are off the mark with their passing and have no weak spots on the field, and it adds up to one pretty unstoppable opponent.
Said Hicks: “They just have a knack for getting the ball wherever they want it to go.”
There is a reason, Firebirds senior Kylee Loneker said, that O-East is the top team in the state.
“The cool thing about their team is they have been playing together long before high school,” Loneker said, noting she has played with many of the Hawks at the club level.
She said the Hawks’ strengths are hard to define because the players are “perfectly connected” when they take the field. Free State (12-4-2), Loneker added, is just starting to know who likes what kind of passes or where on the field certain teammates like to run.
“Those girls figured that out when they were in sixth grade,” she said.
It’s not as if the Firebirds lack chemistry. Barah said his team’s five-goal loss, by far its worst of the season, was out of character.
“All around the field, we didn’t feel we played our best,” the coach said. “Obviously, the other team has a little bit to do with that.”
Free State, Hicks added, must learn from that difficult setback.
“We played a strong first half, although they scored two goals on us,” Hicks said. “Once the second half came around, we kind of just gave up because we were so discouraged about being down four or five goals that we couldn’t really handle it.”
FSHS defenders Hicks, Olivia Hodison and Rylee Fuerst, goalkeeper Elena Auer and even midfielders and forwards such as Loneker, Maren Kahler, Nikki Hutchison, Regan Keasling, Allix Ice, Chelsea Casady, Hadyn Hutchison, Abbey Casady, Maddie Dieker, Margaux Gill and Katie Sarraf will have to play strong defense at their respective positions to keep O-East in check in the rematch.
Effort, not strategy, Barah said, will have to change for the better against the Hawks.
“Although they are a really good team,” she said, “if we play our game we do stand a chance to beat them.”