The season’s first order of business for Blue Valley Southwest soccer coach Jason Pendleton was to eradicate the notion that the Timberwolves were “defending” their Class 5A state title.
The reigning state champions knew they’d get everyone’s best shot, especially in the ultra-competitive Eastern Kansas League. BV Southwest didn’t win its first state title by being timid, nor would it win another.
“It’s kind of cliché, but our mantra all year was ‘attack the process,’” Pendleton said. “We’re not defending anything. We’re attacking.”
BV Southwest beat Mill Valley 2-0 in the Class 5A state championship game on May 26 at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka, putting the final touches on a 19-0-1 season.
The Timberwolves ended the season as the No. 6-ranked team in the country, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com, not to mention the best team in Kansas, regardless of class. BV Southwest also posted victories over Class 6A champion Blue Valley West and Class 4-1A champion Bishop Miege.
“That’s always a goal, to go undefeated and not lose a game. We were inspired by the boys, because they went undefeated and we had never done that,” senior center back Riley Minard said. “We wanted to do the same and make it really memorable and copy what they had done.”
It was evident early on that the talent pool was deep enough to put together a season for the ages. An influx of freshman talent supplemented the returning players, and helped turn every practice into a high-octane training session.
“Our intensity in practice every day was way higher than last year,” senior Cassie Forcellini said. “Every practice we came in wanting to get better and striving to be better.”
The level of play was so high that Pendleton didn’t hesitate to use the full strength of his bench, even with the season on the line.
“Every player on our varsity roster played in the state semifinal game (against Wichita Bishop Carrol), even when it was 0-0 late in the game, simply because they could contribute in significant moments,” Pendleton said. “We had a great group of girls across the board.”
And while the Timberwolves didn’t believe in the notion of “defending” their state title, they did believe in defense.
BV Southwest allowed a paltry four goals during the season – one of which was an own goal – and didn’t allow the opposition to score in the final nine matches of the season. That means the 2019 team will inherit two state titles and a 740-minute scoreless streak.
“Starting off the year I was a little nervous, just because we had two freshmen starting in the back, but I was really impressed. We were super strong,” senior goalkeeper Jillian Patton said. “I think like the first game we came out really strong and we worked really hard and I knew right then and there that we were going to have a strong defense and have a good year.”
That scoreless streak started on May 1, with a scoreless draw against Blue Valley, which was the only blemish on BV Southwest’s season.
“That really stunk, because we had so many opportunities and chances and shots that hit the post and we couldn’t finish,” Forcellini said. “But it helped us a lot. At the time we were like, ‘Crap, we have to get on it. We can’t settle for a tie.’ That pushed us and motivated us a lot.”
Next season will start a new era for BV Southwest. Pendleton decided to relinquish his coaching duties on the boys and girls side to focus on his role as the executive director of KC Fusion soccer club, though he will remain a teacher at BV Southwest.
High school is short, and the seasons within the school year shorter still. Change is inevitable. So the Timberwolves enjoyed every minute of their season, especially the final ones.
“At halftime (in the state championship), right before when we had our huddle, Coach P came out and started crying in our huddle,” Minard said. “That feeling of winning is so amazing and we worked so hard to get that feeling back again, and those freshman had no idea what that feeling was like, and it was nice to experience that for the last time.”
The future of Timberwolves soccer is bright, and Pendleton’s successor will have plenty to work with.
“The last two years, we felt we arrived. Beating the 6A champ and 6A runner-up, we feel like our program has made it to the top,” Pendleton said. “And right now we’re sitting as the top program in the state.”
That statement doesn’t need defending.