Grain Valley staves off Notre Dame for shot at first girls soccer state title

By Greg Uptain
Special to The Examiner

FENTON, Mo. — As her video game-like goal-scoring numbers show, Raena Childers is a pure scorer. 

But she's good with being a distributor as well. 

Childers, a Grain Valley senior who entered play Wednesday with 55 goals this season, threaded a perfect through pass to freshman Emma Thiessen for a goal in the 59th minute and the Eagles hung on for a 1-0 win over St. Louis Notre Dame in a Class 3 girls soccer state semifinal at World Wide Technology Soccer Park. 

“For my club team, I usually play the six, so I'm usually a passer and assister,” said Childers, who has signed to play soccer at Kansas. “I do love scoring, but most of all I love winning. So, I've just got to get the job done.” 

Grain Valley freshman Emma Thiessen is hugged by senior Raena Childers and other teammates after scoring the only goal in a Class 3 state semifinal against St. Louis Notre Dame Wednesday at World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo. Childers earned the assist on the play that lifted the Eagles into Thursday's state championship game.

Grain Valley (22-2-1) advances to take on Fort Zumwalt South (21-2) for the Class 3 state championship at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The Bulldogs edged Union 2-1 in Wednesday's other semifinal. 

Zumwalt South is the No. 1 team in the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association Class 3 power rankings. Grain Valley is No. 4. 

“They're the No. 1-ranked team in the state and a nationally ranked team, so we know they're gonna be good,” Eagles coach Tyler Nichol said. “It's gonna be a really tough task, but we'll be game-planning tonight and we'll figure something out and hopefully give it our best shot tomorrow.” 

In their first appearance in the state final four, the Eagles made history with their win Wednesday and will look to add to it Thursday. 

“This is my first actual year and we're going to the state championship game,” sophomore goalkeeper Camihle Williams, who made five saves, said, referring to last season being canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “That's crazy. It feels great to be the goalkeeper in the first one that we've ever been to, but I wouldn't be here without my team.” 

Grain Valley freshman Emma Thiessen, back left, leaps into the arms of senior Raena Childers (6) as teammates converge to celebrate after Thiessen scored a goal off a Childers pass in the 59th minute of Wednesday's Class 3 state semifinal. Thiessen's goal was all the Eagles needed to advance to Thursday's state championship game.

Notre Dame (21-7) was making its 10th semifinal appearance, which includes one title (1986) and three runner-up finishes. The Rebels also have three third-place finishes and two fourth-place showings. 

“They had one opportunity and they capitalized on it,” Notre Dame senior midfielder Rachel Tabash said. “No matter what we did, we couldn't find the back of the net.” 

Grain Valley sophomore goalkeeper Camihle Williams makes a save on a St. Louis Notre Dame shot in a Class 3 state semifinal Wednesday. Williams made five saves, including some key stops late, to help the Eagles hang on for a 1-0 victory and a berth in Thursday's state championship game.

In the first 15 minutes, Childers had a couple of free kicks from about 30 yards out that easily went into the hands of Notre Dame keeper Samantha Foppe. 

The Rebels also had a free kick from about 30 yards out, but that one turned out to be much more dangerous, as Samantha Short bent one in that Williams had to be alert on. She just got a hand on it to send it wide with 10:45 left in what turned out to be a scoreless first half.

The winning goal came off a play at the top of the box, where Childers sent a perfect pass into the box. Thiessen was able to shake off her defender and come in all alone on Foppe, burying a left-foot shot past her for the lead. 

“Obviously, Raena draws so much attention, but really what we've shown the last three games is we have other players that can punish you if you give them the time and space,” Nichol said. “That was a great combination play for Raena to find space and then just a composed finish from Emma.” 

The goal was the 27th of the season for Thiessen, who was unavailable for comment after the game after leaving with 2:54 to play after bumping her head hard on the shoulder of a Notre Dame player. 

Grain Valley had a couple golden opportunities to stretch its lead with one coming in the 67th minute when Annabelle Totta made a pair of dazzling moves to get herself in all alone. Her shot, though, rolled just wide of the far post. Another came with less than two minutes left when Childers' blast from 15 yards out went wide. 

Notre Dame also had some high-quality chances in the final 15 minutes, but the Eagles defense and Williams stood tall. 

Grain Valley junior midfielder Rian Handy, right, heads a ball forward under pressure from St. Louis Notre Dame forward Payton Buck (24) in their Class 3 state semifinal Wednesday. The Eagles claimed a 1-0 win to advance to the state championship game Thursday.

Williams made a nice save on a Jillian Beck free kick from just outside the box with 14 minutes to play and she made an even bigger stop with 10 minutes left as she corralled Payton Buck's blast after her dangerous rush down the right side. 

“My defense, I would have had a way harder game if they wouldn't have stayed so structured because it would have been tons of one-on-ones and those suck,” Williams said. “No matter what, you've just got to get it done.” 

Notre Dame had several other dangerous chances within close range, but Grain Valley was able to keep its net clean to move on to the biggest game in program history. 

“This is pretty unbelievable. I'm pretty much in awe right now,” Childers said. “This is an unbelievable squad I get to play with my senior year. I literally cannot believe we just won that game. It was all heart. 

“We've just got to focus and keep our confidence and motivation high. We have nothing to lose. We've got this.”

Grain Valley freshman midfielder Annabelle Totta, left, is leaned on by St. Louis Notre Dame midfielder Greta Kohnz as she tries to move the ball downfield in a Class 3 state semifinal Wednesday. Grain Valley claimed a 1-0 win to advance to Thursday's state championship game.