Circle soccer remains unbeaten, heads to first-ever state quarterfinals

Lionel Tipton
Circle's Carsyn Soto (11) goes in for a shot right before the end of the half in Circle's 5-0 win over Augusta on Thursday, May 20 at Circle High.

TOWANDA, Kansas — Circle High seniors completed classes earlier this week, but for the six on the Thunderbirds’ soccer team, one final exam remained.

Circle aced this test Thursday night, dispatching Augusta, 5-0, and winning its Class 4-1A regional. 

“We took care of it,” senior Brooklyn Hunter said. “We took care of business.”

The T-Birds (18-0-0), the West Region’s top seed, will open state quarterfinal play Tuesday at home (5 p.m.) against No. 4 McPherson (13-4-1), which pushed the T-Birds to the very end April 29 before falling, 2-1. No. 3 Buhler (14-4-0) is at No. 2 Mulvane (14-4-0) in the other quarterfinal.

As has been the case much of the season, seniors fueled the Circle attack. Carsyn Soto got an early start, scoring her first goal when the game was less than five minutes old and adding three more. 

“Technically, we didn’t need anything else,” Circle coach Andrew Stauffer said.

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Fellow senior Kenzi Gillispie had the other T-Birds goal.

Advancing to state was very special for the group of seniors who were denied a state shot last year because of COVID-19. 

Often, when the ball is passed ahead, Soto finds a burst of speed to outrun defenders and take it in on goal. She said the team’s success this year has been sparked by hard work.

“We definitely deserve it,” Soto said. “We’ve worked really hard for it.”

Augusta plays a high line, Soto said, so that helped her streak past for clear shots.

“Play behind the line and let me run on in,” she said. “It’s really easy to get ‘through’ balls in. You’ve got to time your runs right and make sure you’re not offsides.”

Hunter said Soto’s quickness makes a difference.

“She’s one of the fastest people on the field almost every game,” Hunter said. “Her and Kenzi are. They use that speed to their advantage.”

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Hunter and Soto could be called Circle’s “Butler Connection,” as the duo, who teamed for the T-Birds’ first goal, will next year be playing for the Grizzlies – who are coached by Hunter’s father, Adam. Hunter also assisted on Circle’s final goal by Gillispie, who will play at Kansas State next year.

“We played good as a team, as a whole,” said Hunter, who will be joined by some of her club teammates at Butler as well. “It was tough being ‘man-marked’ all game, but it gave other players opportunities to get in front of the goal and make chances. 

“It was a fun game. It didn’t really feel like a regional championship.”

Stauffer said he was thrilled to get a home game to open state play.

“It was a good ride (Tuesday night),” he said. 

Lanna Chase, who assisted on two of Soto’s goals, will be heading to the University of Kansas in the fall. Chase, a Class 4A State runner-up with Gillispie in doubles tennis last fall, possesses a long stride on her 5-foot-9 frame that allows her to step right around defenders.

“It was nice that I can dribble and take the pressure off her (Soto), then I can slip her in,” Chase said.

Chase said she was thrilled about going to state in a second sport.

“It feels awesome,” she said. “I’m getting to go to state with my friends. And I get to go with Kenzi, and she’s my partner back there (as defenders).”

Many of the seniors have come up the ranks in the district, beginning in middle school, but Gillispie and her freshman sister, Kilar, are transfers from Newton.

“It’s super-exciting that we’re going,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard for it all year; we played so good together. It’s just a really great feeling to go.

“It’s just so exciting. I can’t believe all we’ve done. We’re undefeated going into state; that’s something that not many teams can do. We’re ready.”