East Kansas League girls soccer teams flexed some serious muscle Memorial Day weekend, placing three teams in state championship games and winning the Class 6A and 5A titles.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Blue Valley Northwest topped league rival BV North 2-1 in the 6A final at Wichita Heights on Saturday, while St. Thomas Aquinas walloped Valley Center 5-0 at Topeka’s Hummer Sports Complex to win its third straight 5A crown and fourth consecutive state championship overall.
“It’s always been considered a very strong league and this year was no exception,” Huskies coach Rick Pribyl said.
The Saints, who own 13 state championships overall, won the 5-1A title in 2010 and winning the first three 5A titles since the Kansas moved to three classifications for girls soccer.
“Honestly, we should have had four teams play for state titles, because Blue Valley Southwest should have been down there,” Aquinas coach Craig Ewing said. “They were possibly the best team we played in the playoffs, but it’s just the way the seeds fell. Bishop Carroll was a strong team, but BV Southwest was probably the second-best team in 5A.”
The Saints, 18-2-1, became the first team in Kansas girls soccer history to win four straight state titles since the program achieved the same feat from 1993-96.
Five seniors — Hannah Pyle, Hannah Kwapiszeski, Rachel Riggs, Libby Reazin and Natalie Owens — played varsity for all four championships.
“I didn’t ever think it would happen again honestly,” Ewing said. “We won the first four state championships in the history of Kansas, but anymore there’s so much talent spread around it’s hard. It’s a lot harder.”
Of course, deploying one of the most potent goal-scoring attacks in Aquinas history made things a little easier.
Sophomore Jamie Kutey scored 24 goals, which is the second-most in a season in Saints history, while senior Hannah Pyle added 17 goals and junior Kelly Sweeney netted 10.
“This is one of the best offensive teams I’ve had in a long, long time,” Ewing said. “We were pretty consistent defensively with where we’ve been the last few years. To have that firepower, though, it changes things when you can score early or you can score after you go down.”
Meanwhile, BV Northwest, 15-5-1, enjoyed the ride to its second 6A crown and first since 2011.
“We definitely had fun,” Pribyl said. “Seeing the girls smile on the field is frosting on the cake and we had fun.”
Senior central midfielder Emily Herndon and goalkeeper Sam Nicolay led the way for the Huskies along with junior forward Kara Priest, junior central defender and sophomore forward Cece Kizer.
“Obviously, Emily Herndon, who was our starting center mid, and Sam Nicolay, our goalie, will be tough,” Pribyl said. “Those girls will be hard to replace, but we had a strong JV and C team this year. Who knows? Maybe next year we’ll pull off another miracle.”
Pitching propels Blue Valley West
BV West’s pitching staff made the run to the 6A baseball championship as easy as possible.
The Jaguars’ staff — starters Zach Engelken, Derek Hurt and Ryan Ralston along with closer Connor Kaiser, who earned saves in the quarterfinal and semifinal victories — didn’t permit any runs during the three games last weekend at Kansas’ Hoglund Stadium in Lawrence.
“Our pitching was outstanding, but our defense was marvelous too,” Jaguars coach Bill McDonald said. “Connor Kaiser made some plays at shortstop that were phenomenal — backhands, throwing across his body, making diving stops.
“Ryan Ralston made an unbelievable stop in the second inning with the bases loaded against Olathe Northwest, diving to his left and getting up to throw the guy out. It was play after play that they made.”
BV West, 21-4, slipped past Olathe Northwest 1-0 in Thursday’s quarterfinal before outlasting Blue Valley 2-0 in the semifinals and pounding Olathe South 8-0 in the title game, a performance McDonald called the best he’s coached.
“My clubs have been in 14 state championship games and that might have been the best-played championship game any of my clubs have played,” said McDonald, who has coached at the high school level for 46 years, including 40 as a head baseball coach. “Defensively, pitching and hitting, all three things were terrific, so I’d have to say it’s the best.”
Hurt, a left-handed pitcher who didn’t allow any earned runs in 46 innings this season, was the lone senior contributor, so BV West will be a strong contender again in all likelihood next spring.
“I’m not saying one more year or 10 more years, but I’m coming back next year for sure,” McDonald said.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.