With a rash of injuries and without a senior, this didn’t have the makings of a banner season for the Kickapoo girls soccer program.
But the host Lady Chiefs on Friday celebrated coach Phil Hodge’s first district championship in six years with the program, beating Central 3-1 in the Class 3 District 12 final.
“We’ll essentially have the same team next year and whatever comes in next year too,” said Hodge, who has won three district titles as the Kickapoo boys coach. “It’s exciting. It’s been a bumpy road, but we’ve played some tough teams this year, and we’ve learned and learned and learned a little bit all year.
“And this is when it pays off.”
Junior Miriam Melugin, who has committed to the University of Kansas, scored twice. She presented Hodge with the district championship trophy, and credited Hodge with navigating through a tough season.
“Last year, we went on a nine-game losing streak, and I know that was tough for him, and it was one of his worst fears for this season,” Melugin said. “He’s a great coach at practice and really gets us going. He really talks us into playing hard.”
Kickapoo (10-12) will play a sectional game Tuesday at Nixa in a rematch of a 6-0, early season Nixa victory.
Melugin returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing a handful of games with an ankle injury. It was just in time.
After a scoreless and even first half, she opened the scoring by pinning a shot in the upper corner of the net early in the second half.
“I feel great,” Melugin said, when asked about her ankle. “My body feels great, and I’ve got my whole trust in it again.
“I don’t enjoy watching my team play without me, but my team stepped up. And our other captain, Kenzie Dunaway, she’s a great girl and really stepped up and led the team without me.”
Melugin would score with just under 7 minutes remaining off a pass from Dunaway.
Central (11-7) played well in waves but could not get quality chances after falling behind. The Lady Bulldogs had two opportunities in the first half, but were turned away by Kickapoo goalkeeper Molly Wassam.
Kickapoo freshman Hannah Sweaney then found Kierstyn Sandwell to stretch the margin to 3-0 with 4:45 to play. It was Sweaney’s second assist of the game.
With 36 seconds remaining, Central’s Aspen Hawkins closed her record-setting season with her 34th goal of the season. The junior’s 83 career goals are a school record.
“We both knew it was going to be a tough game, and it was probably going to be close,” Central coach Chris Welch said. “And, you know, we fought.”