Lions hold off Jaguars in opener
Cordes leads LHS with goal, assist in NEKSL victory
Shawnee The Lansing High girls soccer team was dealt the toughest possible scenario for defending its Northeast Kansas Soccer League title when it was slated to play league foe Mill Valley on Tuesday in the season-opener for both squads.
Lansing won the league crown last year, but it split the regular season series with Mill Valley. LHS won the first meeting, 3-2, but dropped a 2-1 decision a few weeks later. Since then, the Lions lost five key players to graduation while the Jaguars essentially reloaded. Given those details, the Lions only a few weeks of practice and zero games to tinker with the lineup before beginning their title defense.
It didn't matter.
Girls soccer knocks off Mill Valley
The Lansing High girls soccer team opened its season with a 3-2 victory at NEKSL rival Mill Valley.
Lansing used a dominating first half to take the lead and then survived a furious second-half effort by Mill Valley before holding on for a 3-2 victory at Mill Valley High School.
"Mill Valley is tough no matter when you play them," LHS coach Rob Elkins said. "Playing them in the opener is going to be good for us for our next couple of games. Playing them in the opener is not a good thing, though, if you don't win and it's a league game."
The victory was huge for Lansing for a number of reasons. The first was confidence. The second was that it served as a major springboard toward winning another NEKSL crown. Besides Mill Valley, the only other league school to present a serious threat to LHS was Immaculata.
Lansing was in control for most of the first half. The ball rarely crossed into its defensive third of the field as LHS midfielders Sarah Sargent, Kayla Pina, Kristen Huffman and Bianca Manago controlled the flow. Meanwhile, Lansing had its share of offensive attacks during the first 40 minutes as Christine Cordes, Rachel Pride and Abby Livingston-Shelburne created a few scoring opportunities but were unable to finish.
Mill Valley tried to steal the momentum during the final three minutes of the half, but after the Jaguars failed to convert on two corner kicks, the Lions took the ball the other way. Pina fed a pass to Cordes, and Cordes took a few dribbles and launched a 30-yard blast just over the goalkeeper's hands and into the net. That gave the Lions a 1-0 lead just 15 seconds before halftime.
"It gave us confidence," Cordes said of the goal in the final seconds before intermission. "We were kind of shaky at the beginning. We're all kind of in new spots and trying to fill the spots of the seniors last year. To get that first goal, it gave us confidence. It gave us momentum to go into the second half."
The Lions remained on the attack for the first 10 minutes of the second half, and they came very close to expanding their lead when Cordes took a pass from Manago, raced up the middle of the field and fired a shot that sailed about five feet wide to the right of the far post.
After that, the tables turned and Mill Valley started to take control. The Jaguars slowed the pace, were more patient offensively and put six shots on goal during the next seven minutes and threatened to tie the game.
"When they slowed down, we didn't know how to react because we're used to a faster pace," Pina said.
After a flurry of shots, however, the Lions took the ball the other way. Cordes took the ball and made a long run up the left side. She crossed a pass to Pride, who crashed the box and buried a shot into the upper left corner of the net and extended the lead to 2-0.
Lansing's two-goal lead lasted barely three minutes. Mill Valley returned to the attack and pelted the goal with three more shots. The third of those came when Breana Hoener drove to the left end line and chipped a shot that skimmed off LHS goalkeeper Katie Nietzke's fingertips, hit the far post and deflected into the net.
During the next two minutes, Mill Valley fired four more shots at Nietzke, but the sophomore keeper corralled every one of them and protected the lead. She received additional support when the offense again came through with a clutch goal as Manago scored off a pass from Pride that pushed the lead to 3-1 with 16:27 left in the game.
The lead still wasn't safe. Mill Valley answered with another goal 57 seconds later when a defensive breakdown allowed Kelly Donaghy to get an open look from point-blank range in the box. Her shot from 15 feet out squeezed just between Nietzke and the post and pulled the Jaguars within 3-2.
The Jaguars had two more good looks at the goal during the final 15 minutes, but the Lions' defense and midfield stepped up and preserved the lead.
Lansing's greatest strengths Tuesday were its aggressiveness on offense and its control of the midfield during the first half. The biggest asset was the all-around fitness that shined through when the Lions fended off some late threats and scored critical second-half goals.
"We did two-a-days for three weeks, and we were ready," Pina said of the Lions' superior conditioning.
Elkins said defensive continuity needed to improve, but he said the adjustment process was natural because his squad had two new players starting in the back. Juniors Elizabeth Cristiano and Abby Hauver are returning starters on defense, but another returning starter - junior Michaela Bristow - was out with mononucleosis.
"Today they got to work together, so Thursday you'll see an improved defense," Elkins said.
Elkins praised the play of freshman Lauren Algarra, who was a last-minute addition to the starting lineup on defense and gave a strong effort.
"The decision to use her was based on how well she's been playing during spring break and how she played yesterday (in practice)," Elkins said. "She's fast, and she was up against a lot of speed on her side and she did really well."
Lansing (1-0 overall, 1-0 NEKSL) next plays at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when it travels to Stilwell to take on defending state champion Blue Valley West (1-0).
LANSING JV 0, MILL VALLEY 0
The Lansing High junior varsity girls soccer team played a scoreless tie against Mill Valley on Tuesday evening.
The Lions didn't present much of a threat on the offensive end, so they relied on a gritty defensive effort to earn the draw. Junior goalkeeper Mary Lyon successfully protected the net as she made 10 saves. Four of her stops were dramatic, including one that involved a collision when she charged out from the goal and took the ball off of Mill Valley forward Molly Spalding's foot.