At first, Blue Valley North’s Faith Branson didn’t know if the goal was going to go in.
Washburn Rural goalkeeper Kelly Lemke stretched out and appeared to have the ball in her grasp. But Branson’s shot with 1 minute, 19 seconds left slipped through Lemke’s fingers, and the Mustangs topped the Junior Blues 1-0 in the Kansas Class 6A girls soccer semifinals on Friday at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka.
Blue Valley North (17-3-0) advances to the championship game against Blue Valley West, which beat Wichita East 4-1, at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I saw she got it at first,” said Branson, a junior forward. “But then I knew it was going to trickle in. We knew that one measly goal was going to be the difference in the game.”
Branson’s goal on an assist from sophomore Emily Kramer ended a scoring drought of nearly 79 minutes.
“At halftime, I talked to Faith about not waiting on the ball and to go to the ball,” Blue Valley North coach Tim Wiseman said. “So that time, she went and got the ball, turned and then went straight. Other times in the game, she’d wait and they’d step in front. At halftime, we talked about taking an extra effort play and turning it into something positive. That’s what Faith did there.”
Washburn Rural (18-2) had multiple scoring opportunities in the game’s final 10 minutes but wasn’t able to capitalize.
“That’s the sport of soccer when you have two evenly matched teams,” Junior Blues coach Brian Hensyel said. “About five minutes earlier, it looked like we had one going in and fingertips kept it out. The other way, fingertips don’t. That’s just sports sometime.”
It was an extremely evenly matched game even though the Mustangs breezed past Washburn Rural 5-0 in the regular season. Both of the Junior Blues’ losses came to Blue Valley North.
“The real Washburn Rural showed up today,” Hensyel said. “Blue Valley North is great. That’s why they’re here. If you don’t come to play, they’ll kill you. That’s what happened eight weeks ago, but we knew we were better than that. It was our only loss of the season. It got us refocused. I thought we did everything we could to win today, but the ball didn’t bounce our way a couple times and it did for them.”
Blue Valley North 1, Washburn Rural 0
Halftime: 0-0. BV North: Faith Branson (Emily Kramer)
BV West cruises past Wichita East
Wichita East couldn’t slow down the explosive attack from Blue Valley West, which won 4-1 with four goals from four different players.
“We have a lot of go-to kids,” Blue Valley West coach Alex Aiman said. “It’s all about who’s going to step up today.”
For Wichita East, it was a big step up in competition.
“We were nervous in the first 15 or 20 minutes,” Wichita East coach Dylan Gruntzel said. “Blue Valley West is used to playing these style of games. That’s something Wichita lacks. We don’t have too many big games. We just don’t have this type of competition, and we’re not used to this style of play. You can train against it as much as possible, but there’s no substitution for seeing it in games.”
Sophomore Lindsi Banker gave Blue Valley West a 1-0 lead with a straight shot at the 22:36 mark of the first half. Less than 10 minutes later, Marisa Popoola’s header on an assist from Grace Scopp increased the Jaguars’ lead to 2-0.
Wichita East junior forward Anahy Guevera cut the Jaguars’ lead in half when she beat two defenders for a goal with 11:33 left in the first half.
“We can play with this team,” Gruntzel said. “If we look for the correct plays, we could have more chances. But that is credit to Blue Valley West. They pressed us and made us uncomfortable.”
Blue Valley West regained its two-goal advantage when senior forward Shelby Lierz scored on a free kick at the 3:46 mark of the first half. Jaguars senior forward Jessie Jacobsen broke free for another goal with 9:15 left in the second half.
Blue Valley West defeated Blue Valley North 9-3 in a previous meeting this season.
“It was a weird game,” Aiman said. “He didn’t have his full team, and we didn’t have a full team. There was a 40 mph wind. So just throw that game out. Literally throw it out.”
The Jaguars are vying for their first state championship since they won consecutive 6A titles in 2009-10. They fell to Shawnee Mission West in the state championship last year. Blue Valley North’s last girls soccer title came in 2007.
Wichita East (16-3-1) will play Washburn Rural (18-2) in the third-place game at noon today.
BV West 4, Wichita East 1
Halftime: BV West 3-1. BV West: Banker (unassisted), Popoola (Scopp), Lierz (unassisted), Jessie Jacobsen (unassisted). Wichita East: Guevara