RIVERSIDE, Mo. — Odds stacked against them, Park Hill’s shorthanded roster of players didn’t back down from another monumental challenge.
The Trojans entered a third straight Class 4 quarterfinal appearance minus three starters and two other expected contributors and facing a team that beat them two previous times. A set piece goal early in the second half proved the difference and brought an end to the career for seven seniors who have been a big part of unprecedented success.
Lee’s Summit North, ranked No. 3 in Class 4 according to the Missouri State High School Soccer Coaches Association, advanced to the semifinals with a 1-0 win Saturday, May 27 at Park Hill District Soccer Complex.
“They have led this program to three straight quarterfinal appearances, 80-some wins in four years so that’s more than any group has ever had,” Park Hill coach Brandt Bell said. “Three conference championships, they’ve just been the epitome of what you would want out of a senior class.”
Jenna Winebrenner, soon to be a four-time all-state selection, remained out of action after suffering a season-ending leg fracture in the previous loss to Lee’s Summit North — also 1-0 in the final week of the regular season.
Park Hill didn’t have either first-choice central defender with sophomore Aleece Noble lost for the season in the opening minutes of the Trojans’ 1-0 overtime win against Staley in the District 16 title game. In addition, sophomore starting forward Ayana Weissenfluh and reserve freshman midfielder Grace Wineinger remained out of action, and senior Sam Paulak, who stayed with the team as a manager, never played this season due to concussion concerns after an all-state junior campaign.
The reshuffled lineup reeled off three straight postseason wins, culminating with a 1-0 shutout of Liberty in last week’s sectional matchup.
However, Park Hill limited its offensive attack and relied heavily on central defenders Andie Powell and Meg Feeley — both out-of-position seniors — and junior goalkeeper Kelbey Emerson. The Trojans weren’t able to score against Lee’s Summit North, which improved to 21-3 with a third win against one of its chiefs Suburban Conference Gold Division rivals this season.
“We knew we were going to have limited offensive opportunities because we wanted to keep our defense strong,” Bell said. “We just weren’t able to quite capitalize on some of those opportunities, and that’s OK because we’ve got a group that works their tails off from the beginning to the end and they give it all for their teammates.”
Park Hill (16-8-2) entered still seeking its semifinal breakthrough after quarterfinal losses to eventual state champion St. Teresa’s Academy in 2015 and 2016.
An underdog from the outset, the Trojans held strong in a scoreless first half with Emerson seeking a third straight cleansheet despite enduring increased pressure. An offsides call ruled out the apparent initial go-ahead goal, but a free kick opportunity minutes later allowed the Broncos to break through just after halftime.
“They played a fantastic first half,” Bell said of his team. “We would have liked to of had a little more possession but that’s what we knew was probably going to happen going in so we just wanted to try to keep a really solid defensive shape and we did.
“We didn’t really get exposed too much so I was really proud of our defensive players for keeping their cool and keeping us in the game.”
Late in the season, Park Hill increasingly relied on a youthful core expected to play more of a supporting role this season.
Instead, injuries changed the script, and the Trojans responded to the adversity after entering the postseason on a two-game losing streak that forced them into a tie for second place in the Gold Division. Alyssa Ramos (freshman) and Mackenzie Sackuvich (sophomore) received increased minutes in the attacking midfield, while senior Kylie Aulgar provided more midfield depth and sophomore Morgan Young moved into a starting defensive position.
The alterations took away Winebrenner’s versatility from her central defender spot and limited junior outside back Chais Wright’s ability to join the Park Hill attack, instead holding back more on defense. Alison Walls, the junior leading scorer up top, supplied the Trojans’ goal in the win over Staley and provided the assist to sophomore forward Sarah Hibbeler in the 1-0 win against Liberty.
The offense couldn’t recreate the magic again, and Park Hill’s season ended with an awkward bounce off of a free kick leading to Lee’s Summit North’s only goal.
“There’s a reason they’re ranked No. 3 in the state,” Bell said. “They’re a very good team, and they have an excellent goalkeeper, four to five really good attacking players so just trying to contain them and limit them and create for ourselves was our objective.
“For the most part we did that, just unlucky to give up the one goal on a weird play.”