Repeat defeat: Firebirds’ soccer season ended by Rural

Free State seniors Olivia Hodison and Maddie Dieker, facing front, share an emotional hug following the Firebirds' 3-0 loss to Washburn Rural in the 6A Regional championship game on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka.

? Free State High’s girls soccer team entered Thursday’s regional-final matchup against Washburn Rural wanting revenge for last year’s season-ending loss, but the Junior Blues defeated the Firebirds again, 3-0, ending Free State’s state tournament hopes.

“They are a really, really good team. You can’t take anything away from that,” FSHS coach Kelly Barah said. “When you make a couple of mistakes, it’s hard to get out of that. We’ve had this bad taste now for two years, but hopefully we can get over it with the next group and try to do something special as well next year.”

The Firebirds and Lady Blues were scoreless at halftime, but the floodgates opened for Washburn Rural shortly after the break. Rural scored on two of its 10 corner kicks, while Free State only had one during the contest.

Washburn Rural’s first goal came on a corner from sophomore Darby Hirsch. After Hirsch let it fly from the corner, the ball bounced around in the box until going in and out of the grasp of FSHS goalkeeper Annie Hierl. Washburn Rural freshman Avery Munns took advantage of Hierl’s bobble and tapped it in to put the Blues up 1-0, five minutes in to the second half.

Hirsch’s corners continued to come one after the other following the first goal. The set-piece specialist pushed the Junior Blues’ lead to 2-0 nine minutes later when her corner kick curled in and deflected off Hierl’s hand into the back of the net.

“I got a hand on both of them, but no excuses with the sun and it getting crowded in the box,” Hierl said. “I don’t know. They get lucky sometimes.”

Free State midfielder Haydn Hutchison said the Firebirds fought off most of Rural’s set pieces well, but that it became more difficult as the game went on.

“That’s kind of what they pride themselves in,” Hutchison said. “They were practicing them in warm-ups. We tried our best to defend them, and I felt like we did pretty well on most of them.”

While the Firebirds tried to cut into the deficit late, Washburn Rural freshman Claire Meyers drilled a shot from outside of the box past the outstretched arm of Hierl to help put the game away with 12 minutes remaining.

The loss brought the Firebirds’ overall record to 11-7, and even though the season ended on a sour note, Hierl said she loved competing with her teammates, especially the 16 other seniors.

“It’s been a good four years,” Hierl said. “This was a place you go every day, whether or not you’re having a good day or bad day. We call ourselves a band of sisters, so it was more than just soccer you were with them.”

Barah said it was difficult to convey what the seniors meant to him and the program, but he was proud of them for leading the team to another year with a winning record.

“These girls have just made it a point of having double-digit-win seasons,” Barah said. “You got to tip your hat to them to be able to achieve that year in and year out. Is it a bad feeling now? Yes, but it’s always one of our goals to have a double-digit-win season, and we achieved that.”