Invite title game tonight has state tourney feel

By Steve Sell
March 29, 2018

It’s going to feel like May in March, except for the cold.

When McPherson High’s girls soccer team plays Maize South at 8:00 tonight in the championship game of McPherson Invitational at McPherson Stadium, it’s going to have the feel of the Class 4-1A Final Four May 25-26 at Bethel College in North Newton.

Maize South was 18-2-1 and finished third in the state last year. McPherson High was 15-4 and lost in the state quarterfinals, one step from the Final Four.

Both teams are chockfull of stars. Both have blasted their way into the tournament finals with a pair of offensive eruptions.

Bullpup coach Chris Adrian said it’s been a while since his team has made its way to the Invite championship game. It’s exactly the type of game he wants his team to play this early in the season as we’re in the infant stages, a long way until postseason play.

Adrian, of course, would like to win the tournament. But most of all he wants to see how his team reacts to the big-game atmosphere. What he wants to take away from this tournament is for his team to keep doing what it’s doing well and also improve on what deficiencies are exposed in this game, which through three games of the season are minimal.

The Bullpups have started the year 3-0 and have outscored their opponents, 14-1. They gave up an early goal to Salina South, but since then have been airtight, due partly to good defense and maybe more importantly, the fact MHS possesses the ball about 75 percent of the time.

Adrian has repeatedly said this year he believes this could wind up being his best team ever. The Bullpups came close to winning a state championship in 2015, losing in the finals to Topeka Hayden. They were third in 2016, so they have been on the cusp of claiming their first-ever state banner.

It’s not easy to replace a Wall of Famer like Alayna Wallace, but the Bullpups have hardly missed a beat. Aislinn Hughes, Jessie Kynaston and Claire Hedlund make up a dynamic returning triumvirate and now speedy freshman Kenzee Godwin is added to the mix as the Bullpups can turn on the jets.

The defensive backline is anchored by sisters Laiken and Lauren Hein, along with Maisie Edmonson. Adrian has rotated three goalies, though in crunch time it will be steady veteran Riley Hett, but he also has been keeping Meghan Smith and Laykn Schieferecke sharp by playing them a half at a time. Honestly, none of the MHS goalies have faced too much pressure because of the offensive domination and the defensive line lets little past it.

Maize South has been just as dominant in this tournament. The Mavs have scored six goals in each of their two games, but probably haven’t faced the level of competition as the Bullpups. MHS’ first opponent, Andover Central, was a quality team that was 9-6-1 last year and Newton has been a Class 5A staple.

Quite often when you get two teams so offensively outstanding, it turns into a defensive battle. It could very well come down to which team makes that one big mistake.

Win or lose, the Bullpups know they’ll be tested unlike any other time the rest of the season.