After a rough two-week stretch where the Junction City girls’ soccer team had lost five-straight, the Lady Jays (5-8) were winding into the final moments of Tuesday’s game versus Highland Park (0-10-1) with a 4-1 lead and feeling pretty good about getting that five-loss dragon off their backs.
However, one Lady Jay was not quite ready for things to be over.
Junior Brooke Swango came into the day with a team-leading seven goals scored this season, just two away from the school record of nine that she set as a freshman. With 10 minutes to play, Swango had tied that record after scoring the opening goal five minutes into the game from seven yards out and then hitting a penalty kick roughly 22 minutes into the second half.
Breaking her own record was within her grasp and with a whole half left to play, time was on her side to get it done. Several opportunities presented themselves including a header that bounced off the frame of the goal but try as she might, nothing was going in.
“It was very frustrating because you want to make it and when you don’t you feel like you need to make it up and get another one after that,” Swango said.
With 9:15 to play, the ball got extremely close to the goal and Highland Park was unable to clear it. Swango got in there and banged it in the back left corner of the goal, breaking her record and giving her team a 5-1 lead.
“It’s really her anticipation and her movement off the ball,” head coach Mitchell DeHoff said. “She sees gaps and chooses her timing and makes her runs when those gaps open up and we’re good at hitting her with the through ball and she puts them away. She’s very clinical in front of the goal. She doesn’t try to overpower it, she just picks a corner and places and that’s how she’s gotten a lot of her goals. But it’s all of the work that she does before that sets her up to be in a good position.”
After the game, Swango was pleased that she reached the milestone but sees it much more as a pitstop on the way to a bigger destination.
“This is the best season I’ve ever had offensively aside from when I was a little kid but there’s still a lot to improve on and a lot to fix. But I’m happy.”
THE LADY JAYS were on the attack throughout the entire game, starting the offensive pressure early and keeping it going throughout.
“We wanted to come out strong offensively and control and dominate the game and keep the ball in their half as much as possible and I feel like we did that,” DeHoff said. “I was happy with the chances we created and really the only other thing I could say is I wish we could’ve put a couple more of them away.”
After Swango’s opening goal, Highland Park did manage to tie things up minutes later thanks to a small defensive miscue by Junction City but from there, the Lady Jays were locked in for the rest of the game.
Senior Vittoria Benoit broke the tie with a goal from fellow-senior Mindy Lechuga-Nevarez a little over 10 minutes into the game and seven minutes later, Swango scored her penalty kick to give Junction City a 3-1 lead heading into the half.
Sophomore Arianna Gold scored early in the second half and with 9:15 to play, Swango scored the final goal of the day.
The Lady Jays now find themselves in an interesting position with three games left: one against a team they’ve already played and blown out this season in Topeka West, one versus a winless Great Bend team and in-between the two, a game versus a strong Dodge City team that’s won four of their last five.
“I think it’s big and it’s all in front of us right now,” DeHoff said. “Playing people twice is hard and people improve from the beginning to the end of the season. Highland Park was much better tonight than they were earlier this year. They’ve done a lot of hard work and it shows. We expect Topeka West to be the same. Dodge will be tough and I don’t think I’ve had a game with Great Bend that didn’t end within one goal and a lot of those went to overtime. Having that in front of us after a really tough Centennial League stretch, it’s really big for us to try to end the season well and grab a regional seeding where we can go and try and snag one in postseason play.”