The Spartans trekked to Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City last weekend and, despite playing lights out on both ends of the field, were forced to settle for a fourth-place finish after losing to Liberty in the Class 4 semifinals and falling to Lee’s Summit West 2-0 in the Class 4 third-place game.
“The girls played [really] well and the result doesn’t necessarily tell the story,” Howell Central coach Eddie Mulholland said. “What the girls did out there was pretty awesome. It’s unfortunate what the outcome was, based on what happened on the field. I thought our girls deserved to win it, but soccer is a funny sport.”
Liberty slipped past the Spartans 2-1 in the semifinal game on a pair of goals that the Bluejays scored around halftime. Emma Cronin scored a goal at 34:53. Then, Madilyn Hamline added a goal at 41:59, giving Liberty a 2-0 lead.
Howell Central trimmed the gap to 2-1 just three minutes later when junior Olivia Fong scored off a smooth assist from sophomore defender Gillian Nicholson.
“Gillian Nicholson got a through ball in, and I crossed it from the side and finished it,” Fong said. “I just knew that if we got a goal we would still have a chance in the game, and if I was able to finish one and put it in, then we would be back in it and gain a little bit more confidence to come back.”
The Spartans increased their pressure with the ball through the final 36 minutes of the game, but Liberty sophomore goalie Ashton Maloney was stout in goal, and the Spartans came up short in the semifinal round.
“I think we had spots of opportunities where we were knocking in the door and we just couldn’t get that goal,” Mulholland said. “With about five minutes left, there were girls [out there] that could hardly walk just knocking on the door just trying to get that final goal and it didn’t happen.”
On Saturday morning, the Spartans had to regroup and face Lee’s Summit West in the third-place game.
“The girls, I would say they were disappointed after Friday but I don’t think anyone was mad about the product they put on the field,” Mulholland said. “The disappointment was that they deserved to play for a state title and it wasn’t there, so we just focused on each other and enjoyed our last 24 hours together as a team.”
After the Spartans and Titans battled to a scoreless tie in the first half, second-half goals from Abigail Hill at 41:51 and Kylie Mathis at the 69:36 mark gave Lee’s Summit West just enough of an edge to deny Howell Central the third place trophy.
The loss left the Spartans with a 14-10-1 finish to the 2019 season.
It was a painful end to the Spartans’ second trip to the Class 4 Tournament since 2015, but the fourth-place finish did not ruin a special season for the program.
“We wanted to have fun, but we also came here for the competition. We knew what we were getting into but we also knew that this was probably one of the biggest moments of our soccer career, so we wanted to make the most out of it and have fun while doing it,” Fong said. “I think this [tournament run] shows that in our program we all work really hard for what we do and always are determined not to stop [but] achieve what we deserve.”