Winning district titles is nothing new to the Grain Valley soccer team.
It’s actually been common in recent years as the Eagles won their seventh consecutive district title after a 7-0 win over Van Horn in the championship game last Tuesday.
But head coach Tyler Nichol and his players want much more than that.
In the past seven years, Grain Valley (13-9) has only made it past the sectional round once – a 3-1 win over Platte County in 2016. The other six times, the Eagles fell. In the last two years, the losses came at the hands of the Kearney Bulldogs (18-2).
That’s who Grain Valley will play in a Class 3 sectional at 5 p.m. today at home. The winner advances to Saturday's state quarterfinal against Notre Dame de SIon or Bolivar.
The Bulldogs are a familiar opponent as they faced each other twice in the regular season during the Suburban Small Seven Conference schedule. Grain Valley lost both games 2-1 and 2-0. In fact, the Eagles have a seven-game losing against Kearney, including their last two sectional losses.
They hope to end the hex against their new conference nemesis.
“It’s a tough matchup,” Nichol said. “They are the most talented team in our region and our class. They are ranked No. 4 in our class in the state. It will be a tough task for sure, but I think we are up for it.”
Sophomore midfielder Sophie Broockerd backed Nichol’s sentiments.
“We had some chances against them, we just didn’t capitalize on them,” she said. “We feel like we have a shot going in.”
Added goalkeeper Raegan Beeding: “It’s really hard to beat a team three times, especially when the teams are playing equal competition.”
The Eagles will be facing a well-rounded Kearney team that is strong in every facet. The Bulldogs are led by Caroline Kelly, who has been a dangerous scorer.
“Everyone on the field is a solid player for them,” Nichol said. “They have a great striker up top and she’s going to (Saint Louis University). They are good at applying high pressure. All over the field, they have talent left and right. They force you into mistakes and they capitalize right away.”
For the Eagles to win, the defense is going to have to be at its best, Nichol said. He added that they can’t let Kearney score two goals.
“If they score two goals, it’s going to be tough for us,” Nichol said. “Our defense has been rock solid (late in the season). Raegan (Beeding) has been great this year. Kami (Drollinger) and Kelsey (Duett) are our center backs and they have some together really well. We have given up less than a goal per game.”
And remembering last year’s playoff loss to the Bulldogs could boost the defense and the Eagles in general during today’s match.
“Last year, we lost to them in (penalty kicks),” Broockerd said. “This year, we really want to beat them.”