Head coach Brian Kroll’s shoulders are feeling lighter since clinching the Class 4-1A Regional Championship Thursday.
After the Tonganoxie soccer team came up one game short of the state tournament the past two years, Thursday’s state-clinching victory allowed him and the rest of the team to throw the monkeys off their backs, Kroll said.
“It feels great. The redemption is just an amazing feeling,” junior goalkeeper Keaton Truesdell said. “It’s unreal that we could finally make up for it after two years in a row.”
The Chieftains had to work for their redemption in the regional finals match against Maranatha at the Overland Park Soccer Complex. It took a penalty shootout after regulation and four overtimes for the two teams to settle the 1-1 score. Truesdell provided the game-winning save as Tonganoxie won, 3-2, on penalty kicks.
Kroll said the game was frustrating because the Chieftains had possession 80 percent of the match and had many shot opportunities. However, Kroll added the team wanted this win and have figured out a way to finish, especially in a penalty-kick situation.
“They learned it’s not all about the power of the ball going into the net, it’s just about placement,” Kroll said. “So on the (penalty kick) side of things and finishing, I think we’ve figured it out, whereas on the field yet, we’re still fine tuning it.”
After a scoreless first half, Maranatha scored first with a goal in the 62nd minute. Tonganoxie didn’t allow the Eagles to enjoy the lead for long, with sophomore Evan Stilgenbauer scoring the equalizing goal just 54 seconds later.
“They’re the best,” Truesdell said of his offensive teammates. “They make me love doing my job. We scored within 54 seconds (of Maranatha). It shows so much heart out of our offensive players that they could do it and didn’t give up.”
After having attained the state milestone the Chieftains have been reaching for the past three years, Tonganoxie faced St. James Academy on Tuesday in Tonganoxie. The game took place after The Mirror’s deadline, but results can be found at tonganoxiemirror.com.
This is the first time these two teams have met in Kroll’s four years as the Chieftains coach. Kroll said earlier this week that St. James is very disciplined, moves the ball well and has good team speed.
Kroll said he was focused on just playing the style of game that allowed Tonganoxie to reach this point.
“The one thing for any team is to play your game, because once you try to play the other team’s game, obviously they’re going to be better at their game than you are,” Kroll said. “We just have to go out and do what it is that got us to this point and if we start trying to play their game, we’re going to lose, no question.”
This senior class is special for Kroll, as it is the first group to graduate that Kroll has coached since day one.
Truesdell said the Chieftains would be viewed as the underdog in the school’s first state tournament appearance in a number of years. The team has embraced the role, but it might not be the underdog for much longer.
“Yeah, we’re always the underdog, underestimating us,” Truesdell said. “I mean, now that we’re putting ourselves on the map, teams are looking at us and being like, ‘maybe they’re not the Tonganoxie they used to be. They’re a new team.’”
The Chieftains have achieved their goal for the season after winning the regional championship but is still working toward a state title, which the team calls the “cherry on top.”
“Everybody wants that cherry right now,” Kroll said. “I’ve got 23 roster players, one of which is injured, so I have 22 eligible to play, and I would say that there are actually 23 that are willing to fight to get that cherry. And they would even fight themselves to get it. So that’s the mindset.”