Manitou Springs girls’ soccer coach Ben Mack contemplated making some tweaks while socializing with an assistant Friday in preparation for Saturday’s Class 3A state tournament game against St. Mary’s, the No. 11 seed that was responsible for one of the Mustangs’ losses this season.
Mack decided to stick with what allowed the Mustangs to go 13-2 and earn the right to host Saturday as the No. 6 seed even though long balls to speedy attackers didn’t produce a goal in a 1-0 loss to the Pirates on the Grace Center turf in April.
“We thought on our field, it’s a little bit different,” Mack said. “It’s a lot more narrow, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for speed, but sometimes you create a little more vertical space.”
He was right, as his daughter Brooklyn scored twice to give the Mustangs a 2-0 win and a trip to the quarterfinals.
“I definitely think it helped to lose to them first because then it just made us really mad,” Brooklyn said.
Early, it was junior forward Olivia McKenna who used her speed to get into dangerous areas for the Mustangs, but her shots did not test Pirate keeper Becca Dunbaugh. That changed in the 32nd minute when freshman striker Grace Olson held up play while Mack settled into a gap in the defense. Olson’s ball skipped across to Mack, who took a touch and slotted it past a converging Dunbaugh.
“(To) just have a target at her feet and be able to buy the time for her teammates to get open and make those runs behind her or off of her, is fantastic, especially with the speed we have on the edges,” said the Manitou Springs coach of Olson, who missed the first St. Mary’s game.
“It just fits our style of play really well.”
Some of St. Mary’s best chances came early in the second half when coach Gregg Braha moved Faith Heery and Marisa Shigio forward.
“We were a little surprised when they pushed them in that second half,” Ben Mack said. “It did cause a few little scary spots.”
Keeping Heery, a holding midfielder who can orchestrate the attack, uncomfortable on the ball was a job assigned to midfielder Bridget Bodor.
“We wanted her to not be able to get her head up,” Ben Mack said. “The idea was to close space on Faith right away.”
Comfort came to the Manitou bench in the 67th minute when the Mustangs’ leading scorer struck again, this time picking out the lower corner of the far post from the edge of the box.
“They got a lot of energy and came out with a lot of intensity in the second half. It didn’t worry me, but they could’ve had a few opportunities,” Mustang keeper Alyssa Holladay said. “So when Brook put it away, I knew that we were pretty much good.’
Shigio had one of the Pirates’ cleaner looks in the 79th minute, but her off-target shot signaled the end for St. Mary’s. Afterward, Braha was left to recycle the what-ifs that might’ve allowed the Pirates (12-4-1) to play at home instead of a trip to Manitou’s bumpy pitch.
“It’s been a special group with our seniors,” Braha said. “This is the last time we’ll play as this unit, and it’s tough. Luckily, what we’ve learned is the cupboard is not bare.”
The Mustangs are on to Wednesday’s quarterfinal at Kent Denver, the 14-1-1 No. 3 seed.
“When you’re playing really, really good defense is when you have a shot to knock those teams off. We feel like we’re playing really good defense,” Ben Mack said. “We feel like we can score on anybody.”