You can hardly blame the Cheney boys’ soccer team if they’re walking around with the limp, unfocused gaze of a battle-weary warrior – the thousand-yard stare.
The Blackhawks have seen some of the most intense soccer battles over four years of state final four competition, three years in a row between 2008-2010 and last weekend’s war on the pitch at Sumner High School’s Sunset Chev Stadium. Each time the Blackhawks out-dueled semifinalist foes to reach the state 2A title game and each time they have come home with the same result – second place.
Friday night Cheney battled the talent and will of an Archbishop Murphy team that believed their name had already been etched on the title trophy, they just needed to pick it up. The Blackhawks rallied from a halftime deficit to take a late lead they would lose before some heroic goal work lifted them to a 4-3 shootout win over the Wildcats.
But any emotional lift Cheney got from the thriller was spent the next day against a senior-laden Fife team that dominated the Blackhawks in the first half and didn’t let them find a way back, downing Cheney 3-1 for the state title.
Less than 24 hours prior, it was Archbishop Murphy drawing first blood with leading scorer Aidan Huggins goal in the sixth minute, but the Blackhawks answered quickly. Daniel Bogart’s shot hit the crossbar and came down inside the 6-yard box where the ball bounced around and eventually came to Micah Weller who knocked home an arching right-to-left shot from 15 yards tying the score in the eighth minute.
The Wildcats regained the lead in the 29th minute off a right corner kick that went to the far post where a Wildcats player headed it back across to a waiting Nick Ulowetz who headed in the score.
In the second half Cheney’s offensive control paid off in the 70th minute. Trevan Estrellado’s shot from close range was blocked, rebounding outside the goal area where Bogart kicked it back in and Weller again punched the rebound into the net for the score – tying the game and also tying the number of goals scored by Archbishop Murphy opponents all year.
In the 73rd minute Seipp possessed a long ball to the right of the Wildcats 18-yard box. The senior headed a pass to the center of the field to Estrellado, who then hit an attacking Seipp with a cross the forward headed in; giving Cheney its first lead at 3-2.
Archbishop Murphy increased its offensive pressure from intense to desperation, scoring just before the final horn with a flurry of action in front of the Cheney goal when Tyler Ptacek eked a shot across the line tying the game.
Cheney controlled both overtimes offensively but couldn’t find success against the Wildcats, who defended well despite losing several players to cramps. After 90 minutes of regulation and overtime the game went to a shootout.
Enter Blackhawks’ goalkeeper Joe Scott. The junior blocked the shots of the first three Archbishop Murphy shooters, seemingly knowing where each was going. Meanwhile Evan Cook, CJ Skillingstad and Estrellado sent their shots into the net, and Cheney to the title game.
In the championship Saturday under beautiful conditions, Fife was relentless offensively, forcing Cheney to play back behind midfield a lot.
Fife scored in the 23rd minute on a hard left-to-right shot from about 15 yards out by Cesar Esquivel that Scott touched but couldn’t control the rebound bouncing in.
Cheney tied the game five minutes later on Estrellado’s left side corner kick to the middle of the 18 possessed by Weller. Trojans’ goalkeeper Ulises Zepeda blocked the sophomore’s shot, but he couldn’t control it and sophomore Ian Schmandel rushed in to send the deflection into the net.
Fife regained the lead three minutes later on midfielder Edgar Garcia’s 25-yard shot from left of goal. In the second half the Trojans made it 3-1 in the 51st minute on Albert Carrillo’s two-yard shot off a deflection, and despite the Blackhawks mounting several offensive surges late, controlled the game for their first ever 2A state team title and an undefeated, 21-0, season.
Cheney finishes the season at 20-1 overall. The Blackhawks lose six seniors: John Gingrich, Cook, Seipp, Skillingstad, Tyler Pratt and Kyle Bustamante, but returns a solid group of talented underclassmen. For Kiver, it’s not about the numbers so much as it is about the tradition of hard work and continually seeking to get better that is Blackhawks’ boys soccer.
“It doesn’t matter how many we’re losing or how you we are, that’s just our mentality,” Blackhawks head coach Mark Kiver said. “That’s what we work for with every senior group so they know it is tradition. We’ll go and start all over again next year and build them up.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.