Lansing, LVHS exchange late goals for 1-1 tie in girls' soccer

Maybe a tie was fitting.

On one side of it, there were the Lansing Lions, leaders on the block, the best team for miles for nearly a decade and coming into 2018 with a chip on a shoulder.

Then on the other hand there are those Pioneers from Leavenworth, three years removed from being a team barely playing at an intramural level, now on the verge of a big break through.

Lansing is known for winning while Leavenworth just watched and envied from about five miles down the road.

Monday night, those two forces met and in a turn of fate, the Pioneers broke through and even if the teams’ season opener ended in a 1-1 draw, both sides came away impressed with the Pioneers’ performance and now embrace that after years of dominant wins over Leavenworth, Lansing now has a team they can call a true rival.

“I am not too pleased (with the result) because I thought we were clearly the better team,” LVHS head coach Derek Wilson said. “We had way more chances – they just put away their one chance. It was a clear example of a program used to winning (Lansing) and another still learning how to win (Leavenworth). They are used to winning and that’s why they were able to hang in there when we were controlling the pace a little bit. This game, clearly showed a team meant to win and another trying to get to that spot.

“We are heading in the right direction, but this one stings a little bit because we aren’t walking out with a ‘W.’”

It was the first game for new coach Ryan Yedlinsky and he was impressed with the Pioneers and came away knowing they were much better than some may have given credit for.

“That is a tough, tough Leavenworth team,” Yedlinsky said. “I was glad to see it and congratulations to Derek, he’s done a great job with his team. I look forward to meeting them in the future.

“We have some stuff we have to work on – some of the possession stuff wasn’t quite where I wanted it and the girls know that. Overall, I think the conditioning is great, they weren’t dying the entire time. At the end of each half, we were the dominant team, in terms of conditioning, and I was glad to see that.”

Leavenworth dominated most of the run of play and ended up outshooting Lansing, 11-6, with their best opportunities coming on about four sweet through balls in front of the Lions’ posts that if afforded just a slightest of touches, the Pioneers could have scored 2-3 more times.

It was similar to a year ago when Leavenworth controlled the game flow in the first half, but trailed 1-0 at halftime in route to a somewhat, still, competitive, 5-0 defeat to the Lions – a much bigger improvement from a 10-0 defeat the previous year.

“I am happier than in the past few years,” Leavenworth junior Alexis Cole said. “We are a program that we know we won’t be the best right off the bat. This program is being built from the ground up. Derek has done a great job with it. We got mercied two years, last year we got beat 5-0 – and we did really good in the first half until the second half they took us over. We gave our hearts out today. The rain effected some things, but I feel (we controlled) play – we had more shots, more opportunities, but we didn’t finish.”

The first half saw Leavenworth control most of the game’s initial 20 minutes of action, before Lansing got on the front foot to push forward, but still left the half without a shot on goal.

In the second half, LVHS definitely played with the upper foot and put plenty of pressure on the Lansing backline only to have junior keeper Brynne Qualley make a number of outstanding saves to keep the Pioneers off the board. Her play was pivotal as the Pioneers seemed sure to break the match open in various clusters of action.

“Brynne absolutely saved that game, no doubt,” Yedlinsky said. “Everybody recognizes that.”

“Their goalie is definitely the reason they are walking out of here with a tie,” Wilson said of Qualley. “She’s a great goalie.”

Against the run of play, Lansing took the lead – after thwarting its rivals on four consecutive corner kicks about 10 minutes earlier – on a velvety through ball by senior Maddy Fay which Alyssa Foley latched on to and poked past junior LVHS goalkeeper Liz LaDuron for a 1-0 edge with seven minutes left in regulation.

“I’ll definitely give credit to Maddy, that was a great, great assist and I did not see that coming and had to take that tip,” Foley said. “I almost had to fall to the side to see it go in. All credit to Maddy – she gave a great ball.

“(Leavenworth) has more stocked players in the back than they do up front. It seems they know how to prepare for our tough forward and pressing (game). We pushed pretty hard and we don’t stop that’s for sure.”

LaDuron was beat on the one shot, but facing only six was a welcome change after two years of seeing shot totals in the 20s and 30s against her.

“It was really different, but I am glad we have a really good defense this year,” LaDuron said. “It was still very stressful in the back – especially in the rain. My defense, I am very proud to have them as my team. We (gave up) some little breakaways, but we were able to recover against it.

“I am ready for the rest of this year. This is the best team, I’ve ever played on. I am proud to be on this team.”

In years past, this was when the Pioneers might not be able to find that extra gear to answer, but not only did they do so, they did it with power and grace all rolled into one Alexis Roan.

Roan got a hold of a ball on the left side of the Lansing goal mouth, saw a challenging Qualley closing in on another, sure, save and decided to chip the ball over the Lion with as a perfect of a loft ball that trickled into the opposite corner of the net 20 yards away to tie things barely a minute later.

“As soon as (Lansing) scored that goal, I switched the formation up since we only had seven minutes to get it back,” Wilson said. “(Roan) realized what (Qualley) had done to a couple of our other players and our players got in those decisive situations – props to their goalie for that. I think Alexis was really smart and said, ‘She’s been coming out, I am going to take advantage of that.’”

The weather had gotten much colder, but the play on the field had clearly gotten hotter.

Leavenworth didn’t stop pressing forward and Lansing had its chance or two, but ultimately the teams would shake ends on equal terms once the game had ended.

“I am actually, really, really impressed with their team and it’s great because this is a rivalry and it’s good that we can play even,” Fay said. “This is by far the most exciting first game we’ve had. They put a great team out.

“It’s a great first game and it always has been – there have been a lot of fans and a lot of hype for the game. It’s good to come out here and play a hard game the first game.”