Set pieces set up Circle soccer win over Liberal in North Cup

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
Circle's Brooklyn Hunter attempts a shot against Liberal on Thursday, May 6 at Wichita North High. The Lady Thunderbirds beat Liberal 2-0 to advance to the finals of the North Cup.

WICHITA, Kansas — You'd think with the proficiency the Circle Lady Thunderbirds hit their set pieces, they'd practice them religiously, but they don't.

The practice, or lack thereof, paid off on Thursday afternoon at Wichita North High School as senior Brooklyn Hunter found Kenzi Gillispie for the header on a corner kick in the 25th minute. Gillispie struck gold and Hunter would cap it off on a penalty in the 61st minute to beat Liberal 2-0 in the semifinals of the North Cup.

Both goals were scored on set pieces.

"We don't really work on them at practice," Hunter said. "It's kind of something me and Kenzi have been doing for so long that it comes natural."

A set piece is any time there is a restart of play, whether it is from a foul or the ball going out of bounds. This can range from corner kicks, free kicks and not limited to a penalty.

Why are set pieces so dangerous for opposing defenses and why has Circle been able to capitalize? Because they are allowing the Lady Thunderbirds to put their best players in a position to score with minimal opposition. Much like an in bounds play in basketball, they can provide some advantages for the offense.

"At the beginning of the season we knew it was going to be our strength," Circle Head Coach Andrew Stauffer said. "It has to be on everyone's scouting report that we are very good at them."

After a questionable call by the assistant referee, calling for a corner kick in the 25th minute, Hunter lined up a perfect pass into the far corner of the keeper's box, where Gillispie was waiting to head it by Liberal's Ashely Acevedo. 

According to the Washington Post, you are more than 50 percent higher to find a goal on a set piece than a normal shot attempt, showing how important it is to have quality set pieces. 

"Toughest part is the organization," Stauffer said. "Just making sure everybody does the right run like they're supposed to and to go into the right area. 

"The second toughest is not having fear of going up and winning the ball in the air."

For Gillispie, she's not afraid. 

"You need someone with courage because you're going up in the air at full force, someone else is coming in, it can be kind of scary," she said. "Not knowing the outcome, it's something we are willing to do and it's a great feeling to score a header goal. So, it's worth it."

Hunter, who took multiple attempts at putting the ball in the upper 90, or the top corners of the goal, sent to rockets that just were shy of finding a home. First one hit the right upright on the football goal posts and the second went between the goal and the field goal crossbar.

"I'm going to take those shots when I have the chance," Hunter said.

Hunter struck one of those home against Valley Center on April 15 was on ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10. So, she has the capability of hitting those.

"I'm always screaming at her to shoot it," Gillispie said. "I just feel like it's going in."

It didn't go in on the long attempts against Liberal on Thursday but she did score on the penalty kick.

All of the set pieces set up a much anticipated match with Mulvane (12-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. Then, the two will play again on Monday in Mulvane for the AVCTL III title. 

"I was unlucky twice today but I've always been told I can play those so I do," Hunter said.

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.