Even before the revealing of the Class 6A Central Regional soccer brackets, Lawrence High coach Mike Murphy felt good about his team’s potential draw.
Among the Lions’ seven possible opponents, they had already faced five of them — Manhattan, Topeka, Junction City, Olathe Northwest and Free State. LHS (10-5-1) beat each team on that list except Manhattan, which won, 1-0, on Aug. 24 at LHS.
“We felt going in,” Murphy said, “that we were going to have at least a pretty good idea of how to play people.”
The Lions found out Saturday they would open the playoffs at home — at 7 tonight — against Topeka (5-8-3), a team they beat, 6-0, on Aug. 28.
Lions senior captain Justin Riley said his team should have an advantage in facing Topeka again.
“No game’s easy, especially being a playoff game,” Riley said, “but I think being at home will help us a lot.”
Fellow senior captain Johannes Reiber said LHS doesn’t want to look past Topeka, but the Lions hope it will serve as a nice introduction to the playoffs.
“It lets our subs get familiar with regional play,” Reiber said, “and just try to clean up things that we see we can fix.”
Murphy said LHS won’t underestimate Topeka but agreed the game should allow the Lions to focus on certain areas of their play.
Connecting on passes, possession and finishing, Reiber said, will be on Lawrence’s to-do list.
“We know if we play harder teams,” he said, “we’re going to need to finish all the opportunities that we have.”
Tonight’s winner will advance to the Central Regional 2 final on Thursday to face the winner of a semifinal between Manhattan and Free State.
Firebirds find distraction
Free State (6-10) didn’t finish the regular season feeling as confident as Lawrence. The Firebirds enter today’s 6 p.m. road game at Manhattan on a six-game losing streak.
In order to break up the tension of the skid, FSHS coach Kelly Barah and his players spent Sunday afternoon honing their aim — with some competitive paintball.
Senior midfielder Evan Smith said the outing definitely lightened the team’s mood.
“Especially after we lost on Senior Night (3-0 to Shawnee Mission Northwest),” Smith said, “it was just a fun way to go out and have fun with the entire team and hit somebody with a paintball.”
Barah claimed to be the top shot with a paintball gun.
“I think I outsmarted them,” he said with a grin.
Smith wasn’t so sure about that claim.
“Barah’s pretty sneaky out there,” he admitted, “but (sophomore) Daulton Sharp seemed to know what he was doing. He got a ton of people out. Got me a couple times.”
Smith hoped now the Firebirds won’t feel so negative about opening the playoffs as a road underdog at Manhattan (11-4-1).
“We’ll just try to stay as relaxed as we can,” he said, “and go out and play the game we know we can play.”