The AVCTL D-III Championship was everything expected to be between the two rivals. However, McPherson High School girls soccer team was the better team after defeating Buhler High School 3-1, clinching the league title and finishing the regular season at 15-1, which marks the most wins in school history.
Both teams went into Friday's match with a high-scoring offense, but it was more of a defensive battle in the first half. Mary Ann Wurm, Sydney Achilles and Michaela Bowers had a challenging task against Buhler's top striker Alex Hutton.
The defense came through with their top-tier speed and tackles, which led to only giving away four shots on goal against the Crusaders.
"They did a good job of just waiting for the moment to tackle, but not diving in," Bullpups head coach Chris Adrian said. "That's what we've learned from last year. We need speed back there to be able to play against a team like this. Mary, who is a forward all her life, has bought into that role of 'hey, what does the team need? Do they need me on defense this year,' and she never complains about it once."
McPherson's sophomore Kenzee Godwin put on another stellar performance as she scored two goals. She set the tone in the first half after sprinting downfield from the 50-yard line and beating out Buhler's goalkeeper Jesse Ferneau.
McPherson was up 1-0 by the end of the first half. Godwin later scored her second goal of the night off of Hannah Hageman's corner kick to give the Bullpups a 2-0 lead nine minutes into the second half.
The Crusaders were down, but not out. With 15 minutes left in the second half, Buhler was finally on the board led by Hutton's lone goal.
"I always tell her that she is one of the best players on the field every game we play," Buhler's head coach Randall Rank said. "You can tell when there are two or three defenders on her on the throw-in, and other teams don't want her to have the ball, and there's a reason."
After the Lady Pups let their guard down for a few minutes, Adrian put back his starters to finish the game. The Bullpups responded with their third goal of the evening thanks to Hageman's corner kick to Belle Alexander to close the deal on Buhler.
Despite giving away three goals, Ferneau made some key saves to avoid McPherson to score more points on her. She finished the night with nine after the game.
"Jesse made unbelievable saves," Rank said. "She had several of those throughout the year. I feel like she played some of her best games against some of the best opponents because she's tested a little bit more, but she had a couple of stretched-out saves."
The Lady Crusaders had their opportunity to score points to stay in the game, but came up short, but Rank credited her girls for staying in the game after being down 2-0. They finish the regular season at 12-4.
"I'm proud of them. We fought the whole game, and we knew it was going to be a battle, and we knew it was going to be a tough game," Rank said. "They are the No. 1 team in 5A for a reason. I'm proud of how our girls fought, especially being down 2-0 and give us a chance. We had our opportunities. It just didn't go our way."
Before kickoff, the Bullpups honored their seniors, which included Hageman, Riley Hett, who made four saves as a goalkeeper, Lauren Hein, Jaycee Burghart, Hannah Dossett and Daphne Carrillo.
"There just so many winners in this senior class when you look at some of the success they had in not just soccer, but in all the sports they played. We got a senior class that is made up of multi-sport athletes that know how to win."
McPherson will hold the No. 1 seed in Class 5A regionals in the Central/South Division. The brackets will come out on Saturday morning.
Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Petes_Picks_orour sports page @MacCountySports