The three whistles signifying the end of the first half might as well have been for the end of the match, too.
Well behind after an offensive onslaught by Olathe Northwest, the Lawrence High boys soccer team was looking for something to hang its hat on. As the teams split for the break in the Lions' eventual 5-0 loss, senior midfielder Ben Matthews offered some words of encouragement.
"We were right with 'em the first 20 minutes of the game," he called out to his teammates.
Sure enough, the Lions (3-7-3) hung tough, putting together stretches of good play in both periods against the Ravens. But when it came down to it, they were simply overmatched.
"These guys have played a high level of soccer their whole lives. We don't have those guys," said Lions coach Mike Murphy. "But the best thing you can do sometimes is to play a team like that so you can see what it looks like. And then you're like, 'That's what you have to emulate. That's the energy level. That's the speed at which we have to play. That's the way we have to communicate with each other.'"
Facing exactly that from the other team, the Lions received mixed reviews from their coach.
Murphy was pleased with his team's play in the second half, including a buildup opportunity that led to a shot by freshman midfielder Mason Anderson. It was one of only three tallied by the Lions on the evening.
The other way, it was a dominant first half that powered the Ravens to victory.
After ONW's Braeden Beard got the scoring started midway through the first half, Lions goalkeeper Ross Brungardt did his best to keep his side alive. Brungardt recorded three saves in quick succession shortly after the goal, but there was only so much he could do.
Down 2-0 in the 29th minute, Brungardt tracked after a ball and caught it, but his momentum carried him out of bounds. He tried to throw the ball off an Olathe Northwest (12-0-2) player, but he was unable to do so before crossing the end line.
On the ensuing corner kick, Beard headed the ball into the back of the net to make the score 3-0.
"It's not even just that they have a lot of skill (or) athleticism," Murphy said. "Their understanding of the game, movement off the ball — I mean, they're communicating so effectively with each other that they're telling each other what foot to receive the ball with. They understand soccer so well."
If the third goal wasn't a backbreaker, the fourth, which came on a penalty kick with less than two minutes before the end of the half, was.
The Lions were outshot 25-3 on the night and were shutout for their fourth consecutive match — the team's last goal was scored by Cole Shupert in a 2-2 draw to Free State back in September.
Their communication — "a problem for us all year long," Murphy said — was lacking and they began to show signs of frustration into the second, as senior Dario Ramirez picked up a yellow card for arguing a missed call by the referee.
Still, Murphy didn't want to just throw this match out. After giving a spirited post-match speech to his team, he looked to the future, specifically how the match could lay the foundation for things to come when the playoffs roll around.
"Getting those opportunities, creating those opportunities takes energy like these guys I don't think ever understood this year until they faced this team," Murphy said. "And so it's actually a good thing for us, even though some wounded pride is what it took to get them to play up to that level."