To those on the outside, the girls soccer program at Blue Valley West High School might seem like a juggernaut or a dynasty. The Jaguars, after all, won their second straight championship and sixth overall since 2002 on Saturday, beating Topeka-Washburn Rural 1-0 in the Kansas 6A title match at the College Boulevard Activity Center in Olathe.
It even seems that way to a key person on the inside, coach Alex Aiman, who likened BV West to an empire in another sport.
“Everyone wants to beat Blue Valley West, because we’re good,” Aiman said. “Kind of like the Patriots — I think. We get everyone’s best game.”
On the other hand, Aiman also noted, the Jaguars graduated eight seniors from their 2017 championship team, lost another player to injury and gave up five more to Sporting Kansas City’s development program run by U.S. Soccer. Perhaps “four or five” Jaguars on the 2018 club, and “maybe one starter” were big contributors a year ago, Aiman said.
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“We got a brand-new team, Aiman said. “So to go 19-2? Incredible. They’re incredible. They worked hard and earned every bit of it.”
Rural (18-2-1) again fell short of a championship after reaching state for the fifth straight season. The Junior Blues also lost in the final in 2015. This year, they had outscored playoff opponents 16-0 in four games — including Shawnee Mission Northwest 1-0 in overtime in the semis on Friday — after outscoring opponents 71-7 during the regular season.
“It never got easy for us,” junior forward Marisa Popoola said. “We had to work our butts off to beat Rural.”
BV West’s goal in the championship game came via the same foot it did in its semifinal win against Manhattan — the right of sophomore Andree Orcutt, who put home a penalty kick in the 32nd minute of the first half after teammate Lindsay Kuhlman was fouled by a Rural defender.
“Lindsay was battling her heart out for us there,” said Orcutt, who finished the season with 12 goals.
Aiman called Orcutt “a big-time player,” and said that getting the first goal usually makes all of the difference.
“Here’s a crazy stat,” Aiman said. “Every time we score first, we win. If you score second, you’re chasing the game and you’re not playing your game. That was a big goal for us — important.”
Rural’s best chance to tie came about ninth minutes into the second half, when Macy Decker lined a screamer from about 15 yards off the crossbar.
Phew, senior Megan Wurth said.
“You always get nervous when they shoot the ball,” Wurth said. “You’re glad that it didn’t go in, but you also have to keep working.”
The Jaguars managed to keep most of the action in Rural’s end, even after getting the lead. The Junior Blues paid a lot of attention to Popoola, who didn’t score after coming in with 29 goals — two shy of the school record — but did her job by making Rural’s defense work.
Rural also wanted to impose its height and physicality on BV West, but managed only two corner-kick opportunities, which were bunched midway through the second half.
“They had some really fast forwards so we have to keep our back line together,” junior Alexa Pittman said. “One of our goals was to keep them from having any corners because they’re a tall team. I think we succeeded there.”
BV West succeeded in every way. With Wurth and Molly Cummings the only seniors, Aiman’s team stands a reasonable chance to win three straight titles. But no matter what happens next season, the 2018 championship will always be special to this group.
“You can have a bunch of good individual players but you aren’t going to win unless you play well together,” Wurth said. “I’m really proud of everyone.”
Also Saturday in Olathe, Shawnee Mission Northwest (10-8-2), getting goals from Caroline Sanders and Elizabeth White, beat Manhattan 2-0 for third place.