Friday night’s Class 3A Region 1 girls soccer final pitted two familiar foes: Class 3A No. 7 Abraham Lincoln and their city and Missouri River conference rival Thomas Jefferson. The first time they met in late April the Lynx scored an early goal and then the teams had a nip-and-tuck affair until a late goal sealed the Lynx victory.
The Lynx scored an early goal again in Friday night’s contest, but there was no such close battle on this night as A.L. poured it on in the first half building a commanding 4-0 lead ultimately leading to a 5-0 shutout of their cross-town rival, earning a repeat trip to the state tournament after the 2020 season was cancelled.
“Watching film from our first game and just talking about some of the strategy we could implement, we knew we were going to eat them alive in the first half,” A.L. coach Robbie Miller said.
Senior Crystena Keesee was also impressed with her team’s execution from the get go.
“That’s seriously the best game we’ve ever played,” she said. “We come out here with T.J. and we battle it out every time we play them.”
Thomas Jefferson coach Mark Royer was proud of his team’s effort, but knew it was going to be tough early.
“A.L. played well. We were overmatched today. I haven’t seen A.L. play like that all year. Kudos to them. We took a shot to the chin, and I think we said ‘oh boy’ and we kind of backed off a little,” Royer said.
Keesee got the Lynx going on Friday after she accepted a throw in from freshman Lexy Mayo and placed the ball past the T.J. keeper just into the fourth minute for a 1-0 lead.
“We have been working on finishing all season,” Keesee said. “I just knew I had to finish and break the ice with the first goal and that really set off everything.”
In the ninth minute, junior Hannah Schimmer took a wonderful pass from freshman Liberty Bates, dribbled the ball nearly to the goal and beat T.J.’s Belt for the second goal.
Junior Paige Bracker commented on the team coming together and seeing each other better on the field.
“Our passing has just really improved. We didn’t connect any passes at the beginning and now we can just read each other better,” she said.
A.L. continued to control play spending much of the first half on the Jacket side of the field, pressuring T.J. who seemed a step slow from the kickoff. The Lynx used impressive passing to continue to create chances.
That passing created another goal when freshman Allison Smith found a streaking Bates who calmly took the ball in and used the outside of her right foot to get the ball past Belt for a 3-0 lead at the 14:47 mark. The goal was also a record breaker, as Bates set the A.L. season record for goals scored with her 22nd tally.
Bates wasn’t done in the first half, though. With just under five minutes remaining, Bates caught a long pass on her chest, brought it down to her feet and beat three Jacket defenders for her second goal of the night, all while giving the Lynx a 4-0 lead at the break.
“Liberty is not a freshman. She was trying to find her spot early on in the season, but about five games in, she just knew. She’s an alpha. She just took over,” Miller said. “She’s strong. She’s very smart. She’s got very good skill. She makes a lot of our offense work up top.
“We’re so glad she’s playing for us,” Miller said with a smile.
Bracker increased the Lynx lead to 5-0 with a fantastic goal off of a free kick at 37:20 of the second half that sailed perfectly into the upper left hand corner of the net, leaving no chance for the Jacket goalie.
A.L. returns to the state tournament after making it in 2019, even though Miller wasn’t sure what he might have this season.
“The talent we brought in this year...I didn’t know what we were going to have in 2020, but in 2021, open gym happens and you start to see little glimpses of things. We started to think, ‘oh, we’ve got something here.’”
Keesee summed up the return trip to the state tournament succinctly.
“Absolutely amazing,” she said. “Especially being a whole new team and to come out here and do that means the world.”
“It feels really good, especially since we are so young,” Bracker said. “At the beginning of the season our team chemistry was bad, but we’ve worked on it throughout the season and we’re finally coming together at the end of the season.”
Miller couldn’t help but mention his two captains, Keesee and Bracker.
“Paige and Stan, captains, they are the only two who had any significant varsity time coming into this season. They’ve been great leaders. They’ve been awesome all year leading and helping the team grow,” he said.
T.J. finished the season 10-8, and Royer couldn’t say enough about his team’s grit.
“What I’m proud of is, they take so much slack from people because of who we are and where we’re from. To be able to come out and compete, knowing people are against them for whatever reason is impressive,” he said.
Thomas Jefferson (10-8) 0 0 — 0
Abraham Lincoln (16-3) 4 1 — 5