Lawrence boys soccer knocks off Free State, 2-1, to advance to regional championship
photo by: Carter Gaskins
Free State’s last-ditch effort soared out of bounds just as time expired. The entire Lawrence High boys soccer team rushed to the center of the field in celebration following a 2-1 win over FSHS in the opening round of the Class 6A postseason on Tuesday at Free State.
The win helped the Lions (9-8) advance to the regional championship for the second year in a row. More than that, though, it served as a signature moment for a 14-person senior class. It was the first time these LHS seniors have defeated their crosstown rival.
“In my four years, we have never beaten Free State,” senior Tanner Glanton said. “Beating them in the regional semifinals means so much considering we lost to them in the regional championship game last year.”
In some ways, Tuesday’s win really started at the end of last year for the Lions.
On the very same field, LHS suffered a heartbreaking loss to FSHS in the regional championship. The game was ultimately decided by penalty kicks after Lawrence had to play a man short due to a costly red card. Then-senior Matteo Kalusha-Aguirre told the returning players after the loss to remember that feeling and channel it for the 2020 season.
It was a message that the entire senior class of Glanton, Nicholas Davies, Daniel Sikes, Alex Culbertson, Chase Reed, Brevin Flory, Alec Murphy, Wheeler Battaglia-Davis, Salvador Good, Mason Anderson, Ethan Gaddie, Omar Gonzalez, Sam Gordon-Ross and Ben Cohen all took to heart.
“(Matteo) just said that he knows how good of a group we had this year,” said Murphy, who is one of two captains on the team along with Glanton. “He said to remember how much it hurt and take that talent to go win a regional championship. He’s one of my best friends, so I used that as fuel to get this win tonight.”
It hasn’t always been easy for the Lions this fall. They had an offseason that was altered by the pandemic, and the seniors didn’t really know if they were going to get their shot to avenge last year’s heartbreaking defeat.
Lawrence then opened the year on a three-game win streak before dropping a 2-1 decision to Free State at home on Sept. 10. But LHS finally ended up in the win column against its crosstown foe when it mattered the most.
So what was the key this time around?
“Grit,” Anderson admitted. “Everybody on the field knowing exactly what they wanted and getting it done.”
That grit was on display from the opening whistle with a game-time temperature of 34 degrees.
Anderson had a breakaway attempt that was ultimately denied by the Free State defense within the first five minutes of the game. He eventually scored the first goal of the night with about 24 minutes to go in the first half, giving Lawrence an early 1-0 lead.
LHS doubled its advantage with 28 minutes to go in the second half on an impressive score by Anderson. He kicked the ball over a FSHS defender and delivered a header past FSHS senior goalkeeper Caleb Prescott in the net.
Anderson sprinted toward his sideline in celebration and had an emphatic chest bump with a player on the bench.
“That was really cool, that’s just the brotherhood,” Anderson said. “I think all of us on this team, everyone was there last year, so we had it in the back of our mind that’s what we had to overcome and that’s what we needed revenge for.”
Free State (10-6-1) didn’t go away quietly, which was to be expected after a strong regular season. FSHS came into the matchup as the higher seed after posting a better regular-season record than it did last season when it made it to the Class 6A quarterfinals for the first time in 10 years.
Junior Joon Chun delivered a long strike to cut Lawrence’s lead in half with about 17 minutes remaining in the game. The Firebirds then missed a few different opportunities, including multiple corner kick chances, that could have evened the score back up.
Junior Grant Glasgow made a few key saves down the stretch for the Lions, including a diving stop on a shot attempt from FSHS junior Andrew Henderson. Senior Sarj Zeedan, who was one of the better scorers in the Sunflower League all year, had a great look on a through ball with about five minutes to go that was probably Free State’s best opportunity down the stretch.
The two-score deficit proved to be too much to overcome, however. Free State then had a lengthy discussion after the match to let the 11-player senior class — Prescott, Zeedan, Yoav Gillath, Ryan Duan, Zach Goertzen, Krishi Sabarwal, Zeke Sheridan, Alon Unz, Spencer Ware, Jackson Barnett and Ben Rohrbaugh — know how much the group meant to the program.
“It was really good to hear from them,” second-year head coach Hussam Mohammed said. “The goal was to get to state, and I felt like we had a better team this year. But we played our rival and (a) rivalry is always 50-50.”
Lawrence, meanwhile, will now turn its attention to the regional championship.
LHS will travel to Olathe West (14-2) on Thursday. The Owls, who are the defending Class 6A state champions, earned a 2-0 win over the Lions on Oct. 17.
“We knew we were going to have to come out with a strong showing here because now we have to go play Olathe West,” LHS head coach Mike Murphy said. “We’ve seen them once, and any time you see a time once, you have a little bit of a better game plan the second time around.”
The regional championship will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday at College Boulevard Activity Center.