The harsh reality of soccer is it only takes one play to decide a game.
The Monarchs experienced that first hand Thursday in a 1-0 loss to Lincoln East in the first round of the Class A state tournament. The Spartans scored the game-winning goal with less than 3 minutes left in the game to end the Monarchs’ season.
After scoring a combined five goals in the regular-season matchup between the two teams, it was a much different game at state.
“We played them in the season and the game looked much different,” Papio coach April Kelcher said. “We changed our formation since then, we’ve changed our lineup, so we figured it would be different.”
The Spartans scored the decisive goal with 2:46 left in the game. A Monarch handball led to a Lincoln East free kick from about 40 yards out on the right side.
The free kick soared into the box and bounced off a few players before East’s Beth Guevara knocked the ball into the net.
“It was an unfortunate call on the handball and we just couldn’t get the ball off the line,” Kelcher said. “I thought if they were going to score on us it’d be something like that.”
The Monarchs weren’t able to get an equalizer by the time the final horn sounded to see their season end with a 12-6 record and their fourth straight loss in the first round of state.
A problem the Monarchs had during the match was creating offensive chances. After a first half where neither side created much, notching three shots apiece, the Spartan offense started to get going in the second half.
The Spartans had two good chances in the first 5 minutes of the second half and had the ball on their end for a good chunk of the final 40 minutes. Luckily, Mollee Swift was a wall in goal for the Monarchs to keep the match scoreless.
Putting more emphasis on creating offense led to some vulnerable situations for Papio.
“We knew they go fast to get up top and we had to take some risks in the second half and we knew we needed to get forward so we could attack,” Kelcher said. “Mollee made some huge saves.”
After a 20-year drought at state, the Monarchs were playing at state for the third time in the last four seasons. Despite the experience, they still had to battle nervous of the big stage.
“I feel like we were nervous more than we thought we would be,” Kelcher said. “We’ve been here and the seniors know what it’s about. I thought we’d come here and take control but the players that we needed to step up didn’t today.”
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Monarchs, who bounced back from a five-game losing streak that allowed Papio to adjust and improve.
“We had a lot of tough opponents to play in the mid-season but it allowed us to figure out things and adjust and get us here,” Kelcher said. “It was a great season overall.”