Next year came early for Millard West.
The Class A No. 3 Wildcats, a team that many anticipated being a championship contender in 2014, put their plans for a state title in fast-forward with a 2-1 shootout win for the books over top-ranked Omaha Marian in Saturday's semifinals of the girls state soccer tournament at Creighton's Morrison Stadium.
Millard West outlasted the defending champions 9-8 in the shootout kicks that went 11 rounds. The Wildcats move into Tuesday's 7:45 p.m. championship match, their third finals appearance since 2007.
“Awesome,” Wildcats coach Jacque Tevis-Butler said of her team's effort Saturday. “We're young overall, but these kids grew up tonight.”
And they did so in a pressure-cooker of a semifinal.
Marian struck first with a goal from Elsie Boyle in the 27th minute, and looked for the majority of regulation as if it would play for back-to-back titles on Tuesday.
But Megan Merkel and Millard West had other plans. Merkel, a freshman, loaded up on a ball that squirted her way and lofted it past Crusaders keeper Taylor Saucier, a Texas A&M recruit, for the equalizer with 13:41 to play in regulation.
A pair of scoreless overtimes gave way to a shootout that just wouldn't end. Both teams buried their first five attempts, missed their next two and converted on three after that.
Marian had two opportunities to win, but saw one shot miss to the right and the other stopped by Army recruit and Wildcat keeper Jordan Cassalia.
“It's a lot of luck, honestly,” Cassalia said. “It's just guessing the right way.”
Millard West connected on four more after Cassalia's stop in the seventh round, the final three of which came by freshmen. Tevis-Butler said she even had players taking shots who hadn't played a minute in regulation or the two overtime sessions.
It wasn't until Cassalia got her hands on Marian's attempt in round No. 11 that things were finally decided. Her stop set off a wild Millard West celebration and punctuated the upset.
“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. And we just did,” Tevis-Butler said. “We're back.”
Her team, loaded with young talent, had lost both meetings with Marian during the regular season.
“But we had to learn how you have to win these kinds of games, how to battle,” Tevis-Butler said, “and that's what they did different today.”
The coach said after Thursday's first-round win that her team hadn't played its best match yet.
Does this qualify?
“This was the best one so far,” Tevis-Butler said. “Hopefully Tuesday's will be better, because I think we can play better than that.”
Millard West (12-3) ................ 0 1 0 0 1—2
Omaha Marian (13-2) ............. 1 0 0 0 0—1
Goals: MW, Megan Merkel; OM, Elsie Boyle.
>> Millard West wins shootout 9-8
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