'It's going to be a great challenge:' Grain Valley soccer ready for Notre Dame in final four
As the final seconds ticked off the Grain Valley High School scoreboard Saturday, the tears began to streak down the face of senior Raena Childers as she looked at teammate Meghan Knust.
The Eagles had just defeated Platte County 2-0 in a Class 3 state quarterfinal matchup to earn the program’s first state final four berth.
"We're going to state! We're actually going to state!" Childers exclaimed as she rushed to embrace her teammate.
As the members of the 21-2-1 state-bound Eagles hugged and celebrated, they were soon joined by the baseball team, which earlier in the day had defeated Smithville 7-3 to also claim a state final four berth.
"It was so amazing, because our boys waited to let us celebrate our win, and then they came out and joined us and made the celebration even bigger and better," said Childers, the all-state midfielder who has signed to continue her academic and athletic career at Kansas, where she will play soccer.
"We didn't have soccer last season (because of the pandemic) and now in my final year at Grain Valley, we're going to state – and we're the first girls team to ever go to state. My sisters, Reighan and Rylan, had great careers at Grain Valley, but they never made it to state. Now I can go and represent my team, my school and my sisters. It's just the best feeling ever."
The Eagles, who are averaging 5.5 goals per game, will play 21-6 St. Louis Notre Dame in a state semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.
And they know the fun is just beginning.
Looking toward the state championship
"We're thrilled to be going to state, but our season is far from over," Childers added. "We're excited, we're happy, we're the first to go to state – but now we have to go to state and win a championship. We can't be happy with just going. We have to work as hard as we've ever worked, and I know we will."
Emma Thiessen, a freshman standout who assisted on both goals in the win against Platte County, agreed with her senior teammate.
"We are all beyond excited," Thiessen said, "and we are blessed to be one of the last four schools in Class 3 to still be playing. It's a dream come true, but it's all real, and we have to keep working and play our best game at state because we're not satisfied to go to state. We want to win a championship, and if we keep playing like we have recently, I think we have a good chance to be successful.''
While Childers missed out on her junior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first year she has played with many of the underclassmen.
"We got to know each other, and we all bonded quickly," Childers said. "Camihle (Williams, who is allowing 0.6 goals per game) our goalie, is a sophomore, but she didn't get to play last year so she is more like a redshirt freshman. And Emma is a freshman, and she is such an amazing addition to our team.
"She's our lovable little goofball who makes us all smile and laugh – until she steps on the field, and then she is all business. She is an amazing player – and she also plays varsity tennis and basketball. She has this sixth sense to just know when to pass the ball to make a goal look easy. And it's not easy to make plays like that –passes like that – that's why she's so special to our team.
"She's a great player, but we all love Emma because she's Emma."
Eagles coach Tyler Nichol shares his players' enthusiasm.
"Our boys team went to state twice (2015 and 2016) and we finished in third in 2015 and fourth in 2016, and Emma's brother Alex (a former Examiner Player of the Year) was on both of those teams, so I can only imagine how special it is for the Thiessen family to have Emma going to state this week," Nichol said.
"It's all been just about perfect – the weather was perfect Saturday, we played a great game and it was so cool when all the baseball guys came down on the field to celebrate with our girls. I only wish we could have been at their game to cheer for them, but we were in warmups and getting ready for our game when they played."
Nichol has seen plenty of tape on Wednesday night's opponent and said looking at the Rebels, who average 3.0 goals per game, is like looking in a mirror.
"They are so much like our team," Nichol said. "They beat some very good teams to get to state, they play a 4-3-3 like we play and they have an outstanding goalkeeper. It's going to be a great challenge, and our players love a challenge.
"We came into this season with so many new players – seniors who were sophomores the last time they played for the high school – and a lot of questions that were answered quickly. This is the perfect team to take to state. They love each other, they respect each other and once they step on the field, they are ready for anything."