State Soccer

Cheyenne East’s Cassidy Hixon battles Kelly Walsh’s Kylie Spangler for ball control during the quarterfinals of the Wyoming Class 4A state soccer tournament recently at the Big Horn Equestrian Center in Sheridan.

Blaine McCartney, Wyoming Tribune Eagle

The to-do list, the accomplishments and the dream season are all gone.

Despite the highest of aspirations and the program’s best West Conference season ever, the Kelly Walsh girls soccer team still fell short of any hope at the 2017 Wyoming State High School Soccer Championships this season.

A 6-0 start to the season, a 9-1 record against conference opponents and an automatic state tournament berth that came with the top seed in the West Conference regional were all washed away with unlucky touches and late concessions.

The Trojans took a scoreless match into halftime against Cheyenne East but an odd bounce over goalkeeper Katie Johnson’s outstretched hand put the Thunderbirds ahead in a jarring 2-0 loss for Kelly Walsh in the quarterfinal match.

It was an especially bitter pill to swallow because their head coach saw a different version of his team on the field than the one that appeared on the scoreboard.

“Certainly not disappointed with our effort and that’s a big team, those girls are big,” Kelly Walsh head coach Jerry Realing said after that loss. “You look at Kylie Spangler and Sara Lamb in the middle and they did a great job.”

The middle is where it all started for the Trojans and was a source of pride throughout the season.

Lamb and Bailey Neff were the two senior stalwarts in the midfield, controlling possession and pushing the Trojans forward onto the attack. The two combined for five goals and five assists while also dropping back in defense to lend aid to the back line.

There senior centerback Sydnee Jensen and her fellow defenders formed a wall that pitched eight shutouts.

While there wasn’t one marquee scorer, there was a platoon of able legs at the top of the Kelly Walsh attack.

Seniors Chelsea Thornburgh and Brooke Johnson combined for seven goals and seven assists while utilizing their speed to pressure opposing defenses and create space for their teammates.

All of them did what they could to disrupt the East Conference’s stranglehold on the Class 4A state championships but, ultimately, it wasn’t in the cards for those seniors.

“We did the things that we wanted to do, we just couldn’t get it into the back of the net,” Realing said. “By design, they set up their defense that way and we gave it our best shot.”

Counting the following loss in the consolation bracket, Kelly Walsh finished with three losses in its last four matches.

The ability to recover from such a heartbreaking shootout loss in the semifinals in the West Regional was not replicated at the state tournament. It was as if the once proud, dominant ship that sailed through opponents had taken on water and all the lifeboats had been seized.

That, however, does not mean they’re finished.

“They’re going to recover and they’ll be fine,” Realing said. “I told them that I don’t like losing, and I’ll never be content with a loss but I think we came out of that first round even. There wasn’t a dominant team.”

The loss of all the aforementioned seniors will be felt greatly when the Trojans begin practice next season, but the talented underclassmen have the Trojans as one of the early favorites to return to Sheridan.

Katie Johnson was just a freshman in goal, leading scorer Nicole Klungness was just a sophomore and the midfield could return just as strong as ever with Abree Hill, Kylie Spangler, Grace Vigneri and Kendal Chipperfield. Defender Irie Elliott, just a junior, was named alongside Lamb as a Wyoming Coaches Association All-State Selection.

Add in the speed of sophomores Ashley Sanchez and Noelle Vigneri, and the Trojans could be even more dangerous next season.

No matter how dangerous they are, there will still be an East Conference opponent at the end of the season. And until that mountain can be conquered, more promising seasons will end just like the last.

“We’re going to have to play that style of soccer that we saw (against Cheyenne East), they punched, we punched,” Realing said. “In the West Conference it isn’t always like that. ...

“We need to play physical and have high emotion. If we can play with that style of soccer that we did right there, we’re going to be okay, we’re going to be fine.”

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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