The thing about playing the same team in both the first and last games of the season to Junction City girls soccer coach Mitchell Dehoff is that it’s a good measuring stick. It’s a culmination of everything the team has gone through over the course of a long season.
“You can kind of see everything we have worked on throughout the year in one game here,” Dehoff said. “Then they come out in the regional game where there’s just naturally more pressure; win or go home.”
The Lady Jays hosted Manhattan High School March 21 in their first game of the season. The Lady Indians won that one 9-0. But 15 games later, an evolved JC team took on Manhattan in the first round of the regional playoffs Tuesday.
An increased energy level was apparent, and the first half looked as if the two teams were on the same level. Manhattan had various scoring opportunities, but JC goalie Elisa Robinson kept shutting the door on those. The game remained scoreless with just 22 seconds left in the half, until a deflection finally put one into the back of the net for the Lady Indians. But in that first half, Robinson stopped shots from the corner, outside the box, one-on-one and off headers; any shot one can imagine. She kept the team alive. It was a big boost from the last time the two teams met.
“She’s been tremendous all season,” Dehoff said. “She’s grown throughout the season too. She’s a great athlete naturally, especially with the wrestling career. But, she came out and continued to learn the game of soccer and continued to improve. There was a couple saves and a couple decisions that she’s made tonight that were very good. It just showed how much she learned this year, and these weren’t things she was doing earlier in the year.”
Although Manhattan knocked a couple more goals in during the second half — one on a penalty shot — JC had chances as well. This wasn’t just a one-sided affair; both teams exchanged some good looks.
“We moved the ball fairly well on offense,” Dehoff said. “Against a team this good, it’s hard to move the ball; hard to get scoring opportunities. We worked a couple decent shots, thought we had one there in the second half. It’s just great to see. It’s the nice thing about playing the same team first and last. All teams improve, but when you measure yourself against a team you played earlier and come off with a much better result, it just shows the growth of everybody on the team.”
Manhattan won this one 3-0, and will be advancing on as Junction City played their last game of the season. Dehoff is no stranger to Manhattan in the regional playoffs. This was his third time facing off with the Lady Indians in the playoffs during his coaching tenure, and the challenge remains the same each time.
“It’s tough; your season puts you in whatever position at the end of the season,” Dehoff said. “Manhattan’s always near the top and somehow I’ve coached against them three times in this regional game. But, just to see the way they battle. I think the last time we played them was 2-0, so the way we come out and battle in these regional games against Manhattan is great to see.”
Reminiscing on the season, Dehoff said there is a game he will always remember about the 2019 season. The Lady Jays didn’t win that game, but he feels it set the tone for their play for the remainder of the season.
“I think we really bonded at the Washburn Rural game,” Dehoff said. “We went 5-0 at halftime, and they scored two quick ones at the beginning of the second half. We thought it might slip a little bit, and then we finished that game 34 minutes scoreless against the No. 1 seed in the West. You could really see that carry on for the rest of the year. The grit and the unity they discovered during that game, it was on display for 80 minutes tonight.”