Improved Tonganoxie soccer falls, 1-0
Losing streak hits 12, but Chieftains have confidence heading into postseason
It seemed no one on the Tonganoxie High soccer team could believe his eyes.
The Chieftains, winners of one match this season, were giving visiting Leavenworth all it could handle Thursday at THS Senior Night.
“Where has this been?” Tonganoxie coach Brian Kroll asked from the sideline early in the second half. “Welcome to the season.”
With the team playing stout defensively and moving the ball as a unit offensively, Kroll couldn’t help but marvel. However, one miscue kept the Chieftains from earning a victory for the first time since Sept. 9 and the Pioneers won, 1-0.
In the previous five matches, THS (1-15) had been outscored 24-2, so the one-goal loss to a Class 6A program was a welcome sign, even though the squad’s losing streak extended to 12.
Senior Quinten Olson said it was the best the team had looked all season.
“The whole game I had goose bumps,” he said after playing his final home match at Tonganoxie. “It’s never been like that. We were putting passes together. We were playing soccer.”
First-year head coach Kroll felt happier with the team’s effort than he had all year.
“That’s what they’ve been taught and that’s how they know how to play,” he said. “They played great.”
The only gripe anyone had with the Chieftains’ play against Leavenworth was a miscue in the 66th minute. LHS played a ball into the top of the box and defender Joseph Parrino was whistled for a handball, which set up a penalty kick and the Pioneers’ only goal.
Kroll called it a “bonehead” mistake but said those things are bound to happen from time to time. The coach, confident in what he had seen from his team, told the players at halftime that LHS could not beat them.
“This team can not beat us and, you know what, they didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves,” he said.
The Chieftains’ play throughout the defeat was a far cry from what they had shown recently. Part of the change could have come from the fact captain Matt Briggs and senior Jake Willis both returned to the lineup after dealing with nagging injuries, giving THS its full compliment of players for the first time in weeks.
Tonganoxie was much more aggressive offensively and Willis led that charge. During a 12-minute span in the second half, the speedy senior made a habit of sprinting past the LHS defense and putting shots toward the goal. Five times during that stretch, Willis’ shots missed, but he established a tone for his teammates.
“That’s what we need to do the whole time every game,” Willis said after the loss. “I was trying to pump the team up. I wanted everyone to be motivated and I was giving the team everything I had because I knew they would give me everything they had.”
Willis wasn’t the only one getting his shot off. Matt Saathoff, Marcus Titterington and Olson had looks as well and Tonganoxie finished with 12 shots.
Meanwhile, the Chieftains’ defenders limited Leavenworth’s chances, keeping the visitor’s shots on goal total to six, all of which goalkeeper Keaton Truesdell turned away.
“The defensive line was unbreakable,” Olson said, praising Titterington and Zack Tallent.
Parrino, Conner Kietzmann and Jeremy Fox also played some defense, and Kroll said the entire unit was outrunning Leavenworth’s forwards.
“Our defense was lights out with the exception of one mistake,” the coach said.
Regional match up next
The Senior Night loss marked the finish of Tonganoxie’s regular season. Although the Chieftains will be a No. 15 seed and will have to play a regional opening-round match on the road, they now have some confidence.
Willis said it was important to head into the postseaon on a relatively high note.
“I’m happy that we played as a team — finally,” he said.
Olson said it felt good to play well, even though the match ended in another loss.
“If we take this kind of game play to the regional field, then we have a lot more games ahead of us,” he predicted.
Kroll said he wants to see THS play like it did against Leavenworth when the playoffs begin.
“I think we should’ve been able to duplicate this sort of effort all along, but now that they’ve seen it I think that maybe they believe it,” the coach said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The Chieftains will play in a regional tournament opening-round match on Monday. With just one victory, THS is guaranteed the bottom seed, No. 15. Its opponent, the No. 10 seed, will be announced on Saturday. The match will be on the road.