When Grain Valley's Nathalia Barr managed somehow to get the ball past Harrisonville goalkeeper Baylee Streit with just 29 seconds left in the first half of their Class 2 District 13 championship game, a strange calmness washed over the Eagles.
“Last year, when we played Harrisonville in the district championship, the girls were all so nervous,” Eagles coach Aleana Balistreri said after Grain Valley dominated the Wildcats to claim a 4-0 victory and their second-consecutive district championship Wednesday night on its home field.
“This year, there was a lot of energy, and some nerves, but nothing like last year. When Nathalia scored that goal, it was like, 'Well, that's a game-changer.' Going into the half with a 2-0 lead is huge. You could sense the team calming down and the girls' confidence growing.
“I think this year they all felt like they belonged in this championship game. They had never experienced anything like it last year. This year, they knew what to do and they went out and took care of business.”
The Eagles now advance to the Class 2 sectional playoffs on Tuesday. They will face the winner of Thursday’s District 14 championship between Notre Dame de Sion and Grandview. Grain Valley fell 2-1 to Sion in last year’s sectional.
The 16-9 Eagles grabbed an early 1-0 lead when reigning Examiner Player of the Year Reighan Childers came up with the ball at midfield and drove toward the net.
“I didn't really didn’t do anything to get the ball,” Childers said. “They just had a breakdown and I got the ball. All I had to do was finish it.”
Which she did with ease.
It was a bit of a different scenario for Barr.
“I definitely didn't kick the ball into the net,” Barr said, grinning. “I was just in the right place at the right time. They kicked the ball in front of the net and it hit my midsection and went into the net for a goal. It was pretty cool to score that close to the end of the half. We were all excited at the half and couldn't wait to get back on the field.”
Childers' goal, combined with Barr's backbreaker, set the stage for a solid second half.
Two minutes into the second 40 minutes, Kali Carson scored off an assist from Sianna Aumua.
Moments later, Eagles goalkeeper Darby Scharfenkamp made one of the biggest saves of the season when Harrisonville’s Kerrine Murry fired from point-blank range.
“I came out and challenged her,” said Scharfenkamp, who was never seriously challenged after that save. “When we lost to them (3-1) earlier in the season, they scored a goal on a similar play. I wasn't going to let it happen again – especially after we'd just scored a goal ourselves.”
Maddie Gangl, off an assist from Carson, put the finishing touches on the big win with a goal in the 68th minute.
“This is just a great win for our team,” Childers said. “Going into this season, one of our biggest goals was winning a second district championship, and we were able to do it tonight. It just feels so good.”
A group of fans formed a human tunnel for the girls to walk through as they made their way off the field.
“This team has come a long way in six years,” said Balistreri, the only girls coach in the history of the Eagles’ program. “This is such a big win. The first one is always special. The second one proves you're a good team and deserve to be in big games like this.”