KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just call the play Park Hill’s “Ali-oop.”
Scoreless against Staley deep into overtime, the Trojans conjured up some set piece magic to extend its run of Class 4 District 16 titles. Chais Wright, a junior defender, took a pass wide open on the right wing, catching the Falcons’ defenders off guard with the indirect approach.
Wright slid a pass into the middle, allowing Park Hill junior forward to slide home the golden goal in a dramatic 1-0 win in the title game Thursday, May 18 at North Kansas City District Activities Complex. The Trojans then celebrated their third straight Class 4 District 16 title.
“I was hoping they saw me,” Walls said. “It worked out perfectly. Chais’ ball couldn’t have been anymore spot on.”
Park Hill (15-7-2) avoided the uncertain fate of a penalty kick shootout with Walls’ winning goal in the 104th minute.
Already without senior all-state defender Jenna Winebrenner due to a fractured leg, the Trojans lost sophomore defender Aleece Noble to a right ankle injury in just the third minute of the District 16 title game. In addition, sophomore forward Ayana Weissenfluh and freshman reserve midfielder Grace Wineinger remained out of the lineup.
Add in senior Sam Paulak, an all-state midfielder not playing this season due to concussion concerns, and Park Hill played 101 minutes minus five expected top contributors.
“This team surprises me every day, whether it’s in games or practices,” Wright said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of girls — who are new because they haven’t played together before — work so hard and step up when we needed them to.”
Park Hill held the shutout behind junior goalkeeper Kelbey Emerson (nine saves) and a cobbled-together patchwork back line of Wright, senior Andie Powell, senior Meg Feeley and sophomore Grace Morgan Young. Wright remained in her natural spot of right back, Powell shifted into the middle from left back and Feeley became a central defender for the first time in her career.
Morgan came off the bench to inherit a huge role.
Winebrenner fractured her right tibia in a regular season game against Lee’s Summit North and will not play the rest of the season, bringing a cruel end to the career of the best player in Park Hill history. All of the shifts have also led to increased time for senior midfielder Kylie Aulgur, sophomore forward Mackenzie Sackuvich and freshman forward Alyssa Ramos.
“I’m floored. I’m just blown away,” Bell said. “These are girls playing out of position and just owning it — owning what they need to do for the team. And no ego about it, just, ‘What can I do to help?’ There’s a lot of girls on this team that take that mentality, and it’s the reason we’re here.”
While the retooled defense limited Staley to mostly quick counterattack threats, Park Hill’s offense also struggled to create chances with Walls — the Trojans’ leading scorer the past two seasons — drawing extra attention.
Emerson made just two saves in the first half, but most of Park Hill’s shots were long-range efforts from freshman midfielder Dragana Andonovski that did little to trouble Falcons sophomore goalkeeper Hannah Peterson. The Trojans came closest in the 37th minute when Andonovski dragged a free kick from 22 yards out just wide of the left post.
In the second half, the intensity slowly built in congruence with the physicality, and Park Hill’s best chances in the second half came early.
In the 41st minute, sophomore Sarah Hibbeler found Ramos with a cross from the left, but the speedy forward’s one-time shot went just high from about 8 yards out. Three minutes later, Sackuvich scrubbed a shot just wide, unable to connect squarely after finding herself open in the box.
Staley started to control the possession late, and Emerson helped Park Hill survive a furious sequence about midway through the half.
In the 52nd minute, a cross nearly turned into a goal, but Wright first chested away and then booted the ball clear at the backpost. A quick breakaway in the 58th minute came to nothing after the ball pinged around the area, finally coming clear to Staley’s Elizabeth Mann at the top of the box.
Mann’s shot didn’t end up on frame.
Staley, which played Park Hill to a 1-1 draw earlier in the year, nearly found the potential winner in the 66th minute, but forward Hailey Faubion’s shot went off the far post after she rounded Emerson with an open net in front of her. Sackuvich hit a looping shot from 16 yards out on the left a minute later, an unlikely effort to nearly score when it caromed awkwardly back off the crossbar.
“We didn’t stop, and I think we deserved this win,” Walls said.
Emerson came up big again in the first minute of the first 15-minute half of sudden-death overtime.
A Park Hill turnover led to a breakaway for Staley’s Jennifer Harvey. Emerson came off her line without hesitation and smothered two shots near to top of the box, taking an apparent foot to the face for the trouble of making her most important stops.
“That’s not an outlier of a play for us,” Bell said. “She’s made that play 50 times this year. We’d be nowhere without Kelbey. I trust her 100 percent. I trust her that she’s going to make the big play, and she’s done it over and over this year.”
With penalties looming, Park Hill set up for a free kick from 24 yards out with Wright drawing some inspiration from Winebrenner — the Trojans senior leader on crutches providing as much coaching as possible throughout the game.
“Normally, Jenna takes that play, and I remembered it so we tried it. They were giving us lots of space,” Wright said. “(Andonovski) played a really nice ball through, and Alison saw us talking about it and she finished really well.”
Wright ran up and faked a shot, stepping over and continuing her run. Andonovski then scooted up to the ball, and Wright worried she was going to shoot, fearing there was a miscommunication of the plan. Instead, Andonovski hit the soft pass to start a play Wright credited Winebrenner with inventing.
Wide open on the right side, Wright waited just a tick before the perfect centering pass to find Walls for a tap-in. The celebration started immediately in front of Staley’s goal with Park Hill fans rushing onto the field.
“I was looking to go to Chais, but I just got swallowed,” Walls said.
Park Hill advances to a Class 4 sectional for a third straight year, scheduled to play at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 23 at Liberty (11-9-2) — an upset winner in the District 15 final. The Trojans will be looking for a third straight quarterfinal appearance.
The two teams met twice this season — the first a scoreless draw before a 4-1 Park Hill victory in mid-April. The Trojans, who finished the regular season with back-to-back losses, have played 15 games that were decided by one goal or ended in a draw this season, going 7-6-2 in those contests.