Freshman trio sends Grain Valley soccer to state quarterfinals
CAMDENTON, Mo. — As the rain came pouring down at Bob Shore Stadium Tuesday afternoon, Grain Valley coach Tyler Nichol knew one goal may be all his team needed to earn a trip to the Class 3 state quarterfinals.
HIs players were happy to provide three of them and it was a trio of freshmen in Emma Thiessen, Annabelle Totta and Kylee Bragaw who put the ball in the back of the net in the final 20 minutes to give the Eagles a 3-0 win over the host Camdenton Lakers. In the midst of winning eight straight district titles, Grain Valley earned a spot amongst the final eight teams for the first time since 2016.
“At halftime, we talked about that final pass we were lacking. We had to find that one time to breakthrough and the floodgates are going to open up, literally,” Nichol said as his team managed to play through wet conditions on a turf field. “Actually, when we scored the first goal it (rain) almost completely stopped for a minute. We knew that first one would give us that momentum and that is how it’s been.
“Those moments after scoring or conceding a goal are some of the most important minutes in a soccer match with the momentum swinging one way or the other. We’ve had a lot of success in those moments this year, and it something we focused on.”
Trying to find ways to break through a packed Laker defense, Grain Valley managed to maintain most of the possession through the first half and push forward in the offensive third of the field. Among the six shots the Eagles put up, the best opportunity came with just under 22 minutes remaining when Totta played a cross into the box that found Thiessen, who headed the ball off the right post.
It wouldn’t take too long for the freshman to find that next opportunity, though.
After a scoreless first half – and as if the turf was not wet and slippery enough already –the rain began to come down more intensely over the final 40 minutes. But, for a brief moment it let up and that is when Grain Valley made its move.
Senior midfielder Raena Childers found Thiessen, who drilled a 22-yard strike past the outstretched hands of Camdenton senior goalkeeper Sydney Smith to the lower right corner, and put the Eagles up 1-0 with just over 19 minutes remaining.
“I’m just happy we got it done and got a goal. And once we got one, we got two more,” said Childers, a University of Kansas commit. “Like coach said at halftime, once we get one, we are going to get another and he was right. I’m just happy Emma got the touch and the shot.”
Then, as Camdenton started to open things up and tried to find ways to counter, the other freshmen added insurance goals. Totta hit a shot from about 20 yards out that deflected off the hands of Smith and into the net. Bragaw then finished a rebound near the top of the box off a corner kick.
With 106 career goals to her name, Childers was happy to see her freshmen teammates get some credit on the scoresheet.
“I’m definitely blessed to play in this program, especially since I did not get to play my junior year,” the senior said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled the 2020 season. “I was still able to get a ton of goals this year, but not just by myself. With the freshmen that came in, they definitely played a huge role in me getting to 106 goals.”
The Lakers did not go quietly and put together a few scoring opportunities near the end with the counter attack. However, sophomore keeper Camihle Williams was willing to come off her line on a number of occasions and thwart any Camdenton attack to preserve her clean sheet.
“We just came out and knew we were going to have to fight hard. We wanted to keep the game close, which we did for a long time until about 20 minutes left when we let that first one in,” Camdenton coach Tyler Sevon said. “We unraveled a little bit, but really proud of our girls. They fought really hard and it kind of got away from us, but we were where we wanted to be 60 minutes into the game.
“We were either going to go for it or just kind of burn out. We faded a little bit, but proud of our girls.”
The journey continues for Grain Valley (20-2-1), who will host Platte Valley (24-2) on home pitch on Saturday after the Pirates knocked off Van Horn 3-2 Tuesday night.
Nichol and his coaching staff will not be minding a home game this time after a 2 ½- hour bus ride to the Lake of the Ozarks. However, he said he knew his players were looking forward to the long bus trip and the opportunity to build camaraderie.
“It is definitely a memory I think we and the girls won’t forget. With driving all the way down, coming to the Lake with the rain and a tough game – we just threw it all in there,” he said of the trip to Camdenton. “Hopefully, that makes for a character-building experience, too.
“This is only the second time we’ve been through this,” he continued, referring to the sectional round, “and they are tough and you don’t get to make it that far every year. You have to take advantage when you do. … Hopefully it was an enjoyable experience and a memory they’ll remember for a long time.”
Now, it is back to training in preparation for Saturday’s game and an opportunity to reach the state semifinals. After playing in the third sectional game of her career and reaching the state quarterfinals for the first time, Childers certainly does not plan to hold anything back.
“This year, honestly, has been my best year. Our team chemistry is huge, we’re all very close and just a bunch of sisters playing on the soccer field,” the senior said. “It has been super fun. Without us being so close off the field, I don’t think we’d be able to do what we need to do on the field.
“We just have to keep going, keep the confidence up and get it done.”
Nichol could certainly agree with that as his team continues to enjoy its first season in two years. The coach just wants his club to embrace everything ahead of them.
“I would say to just not take it for granted. In our class, after tonight, there are only going to be seven other teams than us still practicing,” he said. “It is truly a blessing you still get to be out there with your friends, and, especially for the seniors, this is kind of their last hurrah.
“Just soak in every moment,” he said with no pun intended after Tuesday night’s downpour. “Eenjoy it and just give it everything we have on Saturday.”