Merci Lessard was cautiously optimistic when she thought it was time to play soccer again.
The Truman senior was only days away from starting her final season when the coronavirus pandemic led to a delay in practice and ultimately the decision for the Missouri State High School Activities Association to wipe out the spring season like every other state.
"I thought we’d play (in the spring)," Lessard said. "I tried to think the best and everything would come back and it would be normal. Then it all hit. When they say your senior year flies by, I didn’t think they meant flies by like that."
Last month she learned the Independence School District would host intra-city scrimmages to honor seniors, and on Thursday it was time for Truman to host the third and final game when Van Horn visited.
The visiting Falcons left with a 4-1 victory, but Truman got a chance to send off three of its five seniors and Lessard played in her final soccer game.
She had to choose between soccer and cheerleading at the next level and she chose the latter when she picked Avila University.
"I felt good," said Lessard, who had a pair of shots on goal. "We all pushed our hardest. I’m mainly happy that we got at least two games in and a senior night. I’m really grateful. As a senior this really shows how much the district cares about seniors and the athletic departments by letting us get that chance to play one last (home) game."
Players on both sides battled through the warmer-than-usual weather for a spring sport. Temperatures were in the low 90s at kickoff and on the turf field made it considerably hotter for the players. Truman coach Manny Tovar noted the weather led to a lot more substitution than would normally happen, a combination of the blazing heat and the fact the players had only two weeks to get ready for the round-robin format.
William Chrisman went 2-0, followed by Van Horn going 1-1 and Truman was held winless. In a unique twist, this marked the first time Van Horn and Truman had played since at least 2008, according to MSHSAA official records. The Falcons are in a class lower than the Patriots and in a different conference. The Suburban Conference typically has home-and-home league games and that takes a good portion of the schedule away from the Patriots.
"It was crazy, especially under the circumstances and events this year," Tovar said of playing Van Horn for the first time.
Van Horn had a breakaway scoring chance in the 12th minute, but a kick save by Bailee Gfleller kept the match scoreless. The Falcons finally got the ball in the back of the net, scoring three times in an eight-minute stretch. Cordelia Payne had two of the goals, scoring in the 27th and 35th minutes. In between Vivian DeAvila added a marker, helping Van Horn take a 3-0 lead at the break.
"The first 20 minutes was really slow and we probably should’ve had two or three goals in the first 20, but it didn’t happen," said Van Horn coach Zach Wilson, whose team practiced Tuesday and Wednesday after a 6-3 loss to Chrisman on Monday at home. "It broke open late in the first half and that was really the difference."
Truman switched up formations early in the second half and it paid dividends right away. Cate Maxey scored in the 45th minute on a breakaway. She had another scoring chance five minutes later, but the shot sailed wide right of the post. The Patriots kept on attacking, missing a shot over the top of the crossbar in the 63rd minute and missing a free kick from 10 yards away in the 65th minute. Van Horn senior-to-be Erika Parrish made a diving stop in the 67th to keep Truman at bay. Moments later, Maxey had a shot bounce off the post and out of bounds.
Van Horn sealed the win in the 68th minute, when Adrianna Lara, who will be a freshman in the fall, scored on a breakaway in the 70th minute. That was her second goal in as many games.
The game was special for Tovar, who coached these seniors when they were freshmen in his first year with the program. The other two seniors playing were Stephany Reyes and Rylee Smith.
Two other seniors were on the roster. Vivian Xayaphet couldn’t make it because of a previous obligation and Deon Monroe enlisted in the military and has deployed for basic training.
"It was hard because we don’t have the players that we normally would; it stinks," Tovar said. "But we got to see some underclassmen who would play normally JV and saw some good things from the freshmen as well. The seniors … I’m glad they are here."