If Shelby Mann was getting back on the bus with tears in her eyes, they were going to be tears of joy.
In her last two trips to Argos High School’s Eugene Snyder Field, site of some of the most crushing setbacks in her athletic career, Mann and her teammates have endured a long, disappointing bus ride home.
Mann’s record-setting season for West Lafayette wouldn’t be complete without playing in the state finals.
With 4:16 left, and just 42 seconds after Fort Wayne Luers tied the score, Mann did what she’s done all season, darting around defenders and finding the back of the net to seal WL’s first trip to the state finals.
“When they scored, I was upset. I literally hate this field because it’s just a bunch of bad memories,” said Mann, whose second goal of the Class A North Semistate championship gave the fifth-ranked Red Devils a 3-2 victory over No. 3 Luers.
“This year when we came, I said, ‘It is going to be different.’ “
West Lafayette (14-7) plays Gibson Southern (16-3-2) at 10:30 a.m. next Saturday at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium for the state title.
The emotions tugged at Red Devil players who couldn’t stomach a third trip in a row to semistate without getting to the next step.
First, it was Addie Reimold’s goal 23 seconds into the match and then Allison Butler’s score with 4:58 left that had coach Aaron Blessing having flashbacks of 2011.
“Two years ago, we were tied and Mishawaka Marian scored with a minute and a half left in the game,” Blessing said.
But the difference was Blessing had the most confident, and maybe best, player on the field. Mann made sure to make good on Kylie Tracanna’s pass for the win.
“When you have a player who has scored 36 goals in a season, when you can count on a player to get you a goal every game, that’s something, especially in the semistate tournament,” Blessing said.
The victory erased a high school career of falling short of their state championship dreams.
“Last year, after our seniors graduated, I knew this year would be a challenge,” Mann said. “All of our seniors were gone. I felt like a lot of our playmakers were gone. Katie (Bittner) was gone. Our whole back line was gone. I honestly didn’t think our team was going to be able to do this, but our underclassmen stepped up. Everybody stepped up and we believed what coach Blessing put in front of us.”
West Lafayette kept finding opportunities to score, many with Mann outrunning defenders to the goal. But the shots were on target. The Red Devils got their break with 22 minutes remaining.
A physical Luers team that drew multiple fouls during the match was called for a foul in the box.
Brophy lined up to take a penalty kick when she saw Knights keeper Taylor Tobe taking away her go-to shot.
“The goalkeeper was really pushed off to the right side and I usually go to the right side with my PKs,” Brophy said. “I never go to the left side, so I didn’t know what to do. I decided to go to the left side because if she dove, she would either dive over it or not reach it.”
Playing with the lead, the Red Devils relied on senior captain Emily Field to preserve it. The goalkeeper played perhaps her best match, ending numerous attacks with aggressive play coming away from the goal and sliding in front of the ball.
With seven minutes left, Field saw a breakaway and knew her best chance to keep Audrey Feipel from beating her was to apply pressure on the forward. Field leaped and knocked the shot toward the sideline.
Field finished with seven saves against Luers and three more in WL’s 2-0 semifinal win over Argos.
“For me mentally, I feel like I have a big role in being that last line of defense,” Field said. “I felt like I owed it to everyone. I didn’t want to be the reason we didn’t go on.”
The Red Devils got goals from Shannon Berry and Mann in Saturday morning’s Class A semistate semifinal to defeat Argos 2-0.
With 13 minutes left in the first half, the Red Devils broke the 0-0 tie when Grace Fisher assisted Berry.
West Lafayette added the dagger with 2:31 remaining when Brophy set up Mann.
Though West Lafayette was able to break the plain just twice, the Red Devils controlled the match, dominating time of possession and firing 17 shots on goal.
“The media has been focusing on our defense because we’re shutting everybody out,” Blessing said. “It’s been our attack. You wear teams down when you’re on offense that much.”
West Lafayette keeper Field had three saves in the shutout, and Hayley Karpick fired seven shots on goal.