HEADED TO WICHITA: Phillips’ 2-goal night, solid defense propel Lancers to state soccer tourney for 3rd time in school history

Clayton Phillips was all smiles after netting his first goal of the night. He now has 21 on the season — one behind the school record of 22.
Clayton Phillips was all smiles after netting his first goal of the night. He now has 21 on the season — one behind the school record of 22.

When Shawnee Mission East soccer coach Jamie Kelly took a close look at his varsity roster at the start of the season, he saw a good deal of potential — and also a lot of work to be done. The idea of making the state tournament frankly seemed pretty far fetched.

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SM East at State

• Lancers (17-1-1) will play undefeated Dodge City (19-0-0) at 5 p.m. Friday at Wichita South High School
• Winner will advance to state championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. against either Olathe East or Washburn Rural
• State consolation game will be noon Saturday
• This is only the third time in school history SM East has made it to state[/pullquote]

“Honestly, at the beginning of the year, I thought it would be very challenging for us to make it to state,” Kelly said. “We would have to do a lot of growing up defensively as a unit.”

Well grow up the defense did. And with the help of an offense led by brilliant play from its senior starters, the Lancers have a shot at a state title for just the third time in school history.

SM East punched its ticket to the state 6A tournament, featuring the top two teams from the east and the top to teams in the west, with a decisive 3-0 win over Olathe Northwest in the state quarterfinals Tuesday.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the boys and what they have been able to accomplish, especially Taylor Stover in the back,” Kelly said of the team’s success. “He’s been absolutely solid for us, cleaning everything up on defense.”

While Stover, the centre back, and the rest of the Lancers’ defense flustered the Ravens’ attack all night, it another standout performance from senior forward Clayton Phillips that proved the difference on the night. Phillips netted the night’s first goal in the 43rd minute, finishing a breakaway after one of the Ravens’ few shots on goal rang off the crossbar in the closing minutes of the first half. Oliver Bihuniak controlled the ball after it bounced back onto the field, and found Phillips up the left side. Phillips pulled away from the Ravens’ defender and punched a shot past goalkeeper Charlie Holmgren.

Phillips struck again at minute 59, firing a shot off his boot from 10 yards out that found the back of the Ravens’ net. Bihuniak added the final score of the night on a header at minute 70 that barely cross the goal line before Holmgren got his hands on it. Kelly said he trusted the experienced linesman’s call granting SM East the point — though he was glad the game didn’t hinge on such a close goal.

“I’m glad that’s not the goal that decided the game, because that would have been a little rough,” Kelly said.

With his two scores on the night, Phillips moves to 21 total goals on the year, a goal behind SM East record holder Tyler Rathbun, who had 22 in 2012.

“He’s been a great leader for us,” Kelly said of Phillips. “He’s so fast and composed on the ball. And he’s a pure finisher. That’s why he has all those goals.”

The win sends SM East on to face undefeated Dodge City, the top seed out of the west, on Friday. The game will start at 5 p.m. at Wichita South High School. The school is currently making transportation arrangement for the team and fans to travel to the game.

Kelly said that with such a rare opportunity at a state title — SM East has never played in the state championship game, instead settling for third and fourth place overall in its previous state tournament appearances — he’s encouraging his team to stay focused:

The fleet-footed Oliver Bihuniak finished the night with an assist and a goal of his own.
The fleet-footed Oliver Bihuniak finished the night with an assist and a goal of his own.
Head coach Jamie Kelly is now in his tenth year with the Lancers.
Head coach Jamie Kelly is now in his tenth year with the Lancers.