Second-ranked Circle soccer takes down third-ranked McPherson, 2-1

Lionel Tipton
Circle seniors who were honored before Thursday night's game (L-R) Brooklyn Hunter, Bridget Lindberg, Lauren Mandina, Kenzi Gillispie, Lanna Chase, Carsyn Soto.

TOWANDA, Kansas–Thursday’s soccer game against McPherson was a night to celebrate Circle’s six seniors, but a sophomore goalkeeper managed to horn in on the action as well.

In the end, sophomore Hannah Stipp repeatedly denied third-ranked McPherson – right down to the game’s final seconds – and the second-ranked Thunderbirds held on for a wild 2-1 victory at home.

“She came up big at times for us,” Circle Head Coach Andrew Stauffer said. “She’s got to be the best keeper in the league.”

It was the first time Circle had beaten McPherson, said Lanna Chase, one of the seniors honored.

“McPherson’s a big rivalry school, so that was really cool to be able to beat them,” she said. “We tied them my freshman year.”

Chase said the pressure was really on the defense to clamp down against a relentless McPherson attack. Bullpups junior forward Lauren Labertew turned up the heat, acrobatically flipping as she passed the ball in.

“That’s like a corner kick every time,” Chase said.

But Stipp was up to the challenge, keeping the Bullpups from scoring with five magnificent saves in the game’s final 11½ minutes.

“It’s good when people trust her, that if our back line gets beat, she’s going to be there,” Stauffer said. “She’s just that solid in goal.”

As the game wore on, the pressure seemed to increase, but the poised Stipp was up to the challenge.

“They were really trying to push forward and press for that equalizer,” Stauffer said. “We were able just to hold them out. 

“As soon as that horn went off, the final whistle blew, (it was) a huge weight off our shoulders, and we could finally celebrate.”

Stipp said the game was full of thrills.

“That game was exciting,” Stipp said. “The first half, I think everybody was slow, kind of warming up to the game. After they scored, it kind of woke us up, and we warmed up to the game a lot quicker. It helped me get my head going and in the zone for the game.”

Stipp said she is enjoying this season and is relishing being able to add more achievements in the next two years.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I still have two more years, so I’m hoping to break more school records.”

But there are also records to be set this season, Stipp said.

“I know we’re close to breaking the team record for wins,” she said. “I’m looking to break (the) shutouts (mark) this year.”    

Circle (12-0) struck early, with senior Brooklyn Hunter feeding fellow senior Carsyn Soto for the game’s first goal just 4:28 into the game, to the delight of the Thunderbird fans.

Soto said it was a very special Senior Night.

“We’ve worked really hard all season to get this far,” she said. “We came out really strong and went to the last whistle.”

But McPherson (8-4) responded just 29 seconds later when senior Kenzee Godwin scored.

Soto returned the favor at the 21:36 mark of the first half, setting up Hunter and giving Circle a slim 2-1 lead.

“It was a tough fight for us, but we left all our hearts on the field and did what we could to get the win,” Hunter said.

She said she was thrilled to get the victory – especially on Senior Night and one that provided such a stiff test. Senior Nights frequently can be like homecomings, when a team will try to play a beatable foe.

“This is awesome,” she said. “Senior Night is usually a game that comes easy for us, but this one was a real challenge for us. We’ve always had a struggle with McPherson; this is our first time beating them in my four years of being here. It’s big for us. And it’s our last home game, too.” 

Defenses took over after that, with the game’s final 58:24 going scoreless. 

“It was good to see that we tightened the bolts down after that second goal,” Stauffer said. “We realized that they can counter quick, and that’s something we talked about at halftime: ‘Relax, calm down and play our game.’”

Stipp was magnificent in goal, stopping all but one shot and finishing with 12 saves, many of them on acrobatic leaps.

“She’s amazing,” Hunter said of Stipp. “She’s been playing club with me for as long as I can remember. She did what she had to do to help us win the game.”

The Thunderbirds will begin play next Tuesday in the North Cup tournament in Wichita with a 5 p.m. game against Class 6A Garden City. A victory there would advance Circle to a game against the Wichita East-Liberal winner next Thursday at 5 at North High. The finals are scheduled for 1 p.m. May 8 at Wichita North.

“We’re playing bigger schools, and (my) sophomore season we took third, so we’re hoping to maybe go for second or first,” Hunter said. 

After that, Circle will close the regular season at Mulvane, ranked 10th in Class 4A but who were shellacked by McPherson at home, 10-0.

“Mulvane is definitely going to be a big game for us,” Stipp said, “because even though McPherson ‘10-0’d’ them, they could have just had a rough game. Going into that game, we’re definitely going to come in mentally prepared and ready to play.”

In addition to Hunter, Soto and Chase, seniors Lauren Mandina, Bridget Lindberg and Kenzi Gillispie were also honored.

“That’s something we learned right off, is that their senior leadership has helped our team,” Stauffer said. “They’re a huge reason why we’re so successful as we are right now. It’s going to be hard to replace that group.”

Gillispie, who transferred this year to Circle from Newton, said the team has great togetherness.

“We play so well together, and the chemistry is so amazing,” she said. “Everyone helps in the game. We don’t have a weak spot. We really worked hard (Thursday) to get that win, and it was a really good win.”

It was a test of determination, Gillispie said.

“We knew that we were just going to have to keep working,” she said, “because we scored the first goal pretty early, and they scored right again, so we had to keep going. We scored another one, but we knew (a lot of time remained).”

The game provided some momentum toward the North Cup tournament, Gillspie said.

“We’re excited for (the tournament),” she said. “This game really helped us for that.”

Circle 2, McPherson 1

McPherson 1;0–1

Circle 2;0–2 

Scoring: 1. Circle, Soto (Hunter), 4:28; 2. McPherson, Godwin, 4:57; 3. Circle, Hunter (Soto), 21:36.