Stylistic differences: THS soccer falls in regional final
It took the Chieftains a while to find their bearings against Maranatha Academy on a drizzly Thursday night at Overland Park Soccer Complex, and it ultimately cost them a spot in the state quarterfinals.
Trying to combat a brand of effective execution that the Tonganoxie High boys soccer team had not yet seen this year, the Chieftains fell behind early and lost, 3-0, to Maranatha in the Class 4-3-2-1A northeast regional No. 2 final.
The Eagles’ Taylor Lemmon set the tone early, when he lined up for a free kick on the right side from 20 yards out and fired a shot that clipped Tonganoxie goalkeeper Keaton Truesdell’s fingertips and fell into the net. That gave Maranatha a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the match.
Just 10 minutes later, Lemmon struck again, this time by setting up his teammate Luke Miller. On the offensive, Lemmon pushed the ball toward the goal. As the THS defense collapsed on him, Lemmon slipped a pass to his left, where Miller took it in stride and buried a shot into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Tonganoxie senior Mitch DeHoff said the Eagles (13-5) played a different style than the Chieftains (7-9-2) were used to seeing, and that was the difference in the match.
“The second half, we played them great, but the first half, we weren’t used to the way they played — that’s why they got those two goals on us,” DeHoff said.
Fellow senior Tyler Woolworth agreed.
“The first half was what killed us,” Woolworth said. “We didn’t go our hardest and kind of let ourselves down.”
Tonganoxie coach Ken Lott said Maranatha’s style required THS to make an adjustment, but the Chieftains didn’t respond in time.
Lott praised the Eagles’ offensive approach. He said their spacing between their forwards and midfielders and the way they sent runners through the middle allowed them to get quick shots on goal, and their superior touch made the attacks tough to contain.
“That’s how you’re supposed to play soccer,” Lott said, noting THS wasn’t able to match the kind of quality looks the Eagles took when the Chieftains made their runs.
The Eagles continued to pound shots at the goal for the remainder of the first half but were unable to connect again. Tonganoxie countered with a handful of strong runs at the goal with senior forwards Bret Koch and Woolworth leading the way, but they couldn’t capitalize and the Eagles entered the half with a 2-0 lead.
Maranatha’s Lemmon fired a flurry of shots early in the second half, and he found the net again — for his state-leading 36th goal of the season — in the 55th minute.
Tonganoxie fought back with a series of shots by Matt Briggs and Matt Saathoff but the Chieftains were unable to find the back of the net.
The slippery turf, senior defender Keaton Schaffer said, added another dimension for the Chieftains to conquer as they tried to attack.
“It made the ball skip fast,” Schaffer said, adding that it was no excuse for the playoff loss. “The ball was flyin’.”
Senior Kenny Schultz said the Eagles had more experience playing on the artificial surface.
“It was hard to get used to it,” Schultz said. “They knew how to touch the ball well.”
Although Maranatha boasted the state’s top goal-scorer, Lemmon, the Chieftains said that didn’t make the final a mismatch.
“I don’t think they were any better than us at all,” Woolworth said, adding the Eagles simply displayed better foot skills in the match.
Schultz said the season-ending loss hurt even more because the Chieftains felt they were capable of defeating Maranatha.
“There wasn’t anything special about them,” he said.
THS had more victories (seven) this year than in the previous two combined (six), but DeHoff said the team’s seniors weren’t satisfied with how Tonganoxie’s season ended.
However, there were plenty of reasons, he added, to be proud.
“I’m not depressed, I’m not down on what we did because we played our hardest and we never gave up,” DeHoff said.
— Chris Wristen contributed to this report