KANSAS CITY — It was all sunshine Saturday, May 25, for the Kearney Bulldogs as they outran the Storm of Notre Dame de Sion, winning the Class 3 quarterfinal soccer matchup 2-0.
The Bulldogs were propelled to victory by the offensive duo of juniors Caroline Kelly and Abby Couch. Kelly scored the only two goals of the game, with Couch recording the assists. The goals were scored early in each half, with the Bulldogs going up 1-0 at the 29-minute mark of the first half and then 2-0 within the first five minutes of the second half.
“Caroline is a powerful force,” Kearney head coach Amanda Hopkins said after the game. “She is so good. Her touch on the ball is just incredible. She can turn on a dime. You’ve got to double and triple down on her in a hurry, but if you do close down on her, that opens up so much more for us.”
With her two goals in Saturday’s game, Kelly now has 41 goals on the season.
“Abby Couch is like the glue of our team. She’s one of the most consistent players I’ve ever seen. She is not flashy, but she makes it all work. She puts things together so well,” Hopkins said.
The Bulldogs’ game plan of keeping the ball away from the Storm paid off, as Kearney kept the pressure on throughout the game, maintaining control of the ball most of the way.
“We kept good possession,” Hopkins said. “It is hard to score if you can never get the ball out of your back line, and that’s how it was for them (the Storm). We kept high pressure on top so they couldn’t get anything built.”
Whenever the Storm did get an opportunity, Kearney goalkeeper Mayson Behney was there to shut it down. Behney, a sophomore, had eight saves in the game, including a couple diving plays for the ball.
“She’s a beast back there,” Hopkins said. “She’s athletic and sturdy. She doesn’t get pushed around much back there.”
Besides an overwhelming defense, the Bulldogs also applied heavy pressure throughout the game, recording 21 shots on goal, which Hopkins said “is pretty dang good.”
Kearney does not typically play Notre Dame de Sion during the regular season, but Hopkins said the Bulldogs have faced the Storm the past three years now in the Class 3 quarterfinal game. Last year, the Storm was ranked No. 1 in the country and the Bulldogs beat them 1-0. This year, Kearney doubled the score.
“It really was team effort of possessing the soccer ball,” Hopkins said. “We kept such good possession. We made simple passes. No one laid down and quit. Everyone worked the entire 80 minutes, and that showed our fitness level as well.”
The Kearney Bulldogs are now 20-2, with both losses coming against Class 4 teams, Liberty and Liberty North. The Bulldogs did defeat the Class 4 Lee’s Summit West Titans during the season, a team that is now in the final four in Class 4.
The Bulldogs’ final four matchup will be at 6 p.m. Friday, May 31, at the Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City versus St. Dominic High School of O’Fallon.
Kearney will face an obstacle in that game as two of their senior starters and team captains will be unable to play. Saige Williams and Abigail Logan both received red cards with less than nine minutes to go in the game against Notre Dame, which makes them ineligible to play in Friday’s contest.
“Our biggest thing this next week will be working on who will fill those gaps,” Hopkins said. “I think we have enough depth that we will be fine. I have confidence in the girls we will put on the field on Friday. But with girls like Mayson Behney, Caroline Kelly and Madelynn Taylor stepping up, I have confidence. We played two down for more than eight minutes, and I am proud of the way everyone stepped up.
“We will be ready to go on Friday. After last year, they got a taste of it and they want it bad. We took third last year in state. This year, they want to go even higher and play for it all,” Hopkins said.