For a majority of the night the fortress that was the Osage defense was impenetrable.
The Southern Boone offense was relentless in its attack with 15 total corner kicks and 21 total shots, but the Indian defense largely did not budge. However, the Eagles found a few small cracks late in each half and managed to pull out a 2-0 shutout to capture the district title on their home pitch Wednesday.
The scoreboard may tell one story, but Osage coach Angela Libby said the final result was not indicative of the fight her team put up against a Southern Boone team that was 21-1-1 on the season coming into Wednesday night’s contest.
“It does not matter what the scoreboard said. For Osage and for this season, especially for my team and more importantly my seniors, that is what we have worked for since day one when I got here with my seniors,” Libby said after the contest. “Our efforts on the field, our decision-making and how smart we were was good. They (Southern Boone) gave us a very good battle and we did not let up. We did not let them push us around and I’m very proud of them for recognizing that, knowing it and then doing it. That is what I want them to take from this game.”
The Indians knocked on the door early. On the very first possession of the game straight from the kickoff, Osage marched right down the field and put the ball in the six-yard box, but was unable to pull off a shot.
Then the Eagles responded and put the pressure on early by dominating a majority of the possession and keeping Osage senior goalkeeper Libby Cueni-Smith busy. A few shots narrowly flew over the crossbar, a couple more bounced off the crossbar, but the game remained scoreless until Southern Boone junior Kate Ponder broke the deadlock with just under four minutes left in the half. Ponder created some space after a throw-in and proceeded to hit a shot near the top of the 18-yard box that flew into the lower right corner and put the Eagles up 1-0 in the 37th minute.
A few moments later as the first half clock was winding down, Osage junior Karlie Minnehan nearly tied it back up. Minnehan found herself wide open and had Southern Boone senior goalkeeper Katy Andrews beat near the top of the 18-yard box, but her shot sailed just inches past the left post of a wide open goal. Still, Libby said there is a lot for the junior to be proud of.
“Karlie has improved throughout this entire season with her confidence in her dribbling and her confidence in trying to find the goal,” Libby stated. “We were unlucky and did not find that today, but she has improved so much and it has been exciting to watch her grow and exciting whenever she had the ball with any kind of offensive opportunity. She also had great support from Morgan Breneman who will be one that is truly missed. The team bonding and the camaraderie of the girls coming together worked well here, but just not in the outcome.”
The Indians had a few chances to make something happen in the second half, but Minnehan’s shot remained the best opportunity the team had of getting on the scoreboard. Osage put together just five total shots on the night finding it tough to break through the Eagle defense and Libby said it took a while for the team to figure out and break through Southern Boone’s 4-3-3 formation.
“I would say the first 20 or 30 minutes of the game it was like, ‘Oh my gosh what do we got?’ But I think talking at halftime we picked that up pretty quick because we knew what we needed to do,” Libby said.
Meanwhile, the Osage defense remained vigilant and kept the score at 1-0 until Ponder managed to pick up her second goal of the night with just over four minutes remaining in the contest. Libby commended the efforts of Cueni-Smith in goal, senior Emilee Curran, sophomore Zoie Turner, senior Annie Cueni-Smith and sophomore Emily Kostuke for keeping the team fighting until the end. The coach said they were outstanding performers and three of the five who are graduating will be missed.
“Our defense is amazing. They were smart with their decision-making and Libby was in the right place at the right time with her vision and being able to follow the ball,” the coach noted. “Watching the ball and working well with each other is what held us. Minus the scoreboard, that is what made us motivated and have really great performances.”
Cueni-Smith recorded eight saves for the Indians including one where she suffered a head injury in the 56th minute while trying to recover a shot with the ball inside the six-yard box. Cueni-Smith prevented a goal on the play, but came out of the game and did not return due to a headache. Freshman Jessica Bradley came in and recorded two more saves before the night was through.
Osage ends the season at 8-14, but the group of seniors who were freshmen the last time Osage reached and won a district title game in 2014 did their part to make sure they got another crack at it in their final season with the Indians. Libby said the efforts and contributions of both Cueni-Smiths, Breneman, Curran, Savannah Foster, Katie Kostuke and Kendra Trandum cannot be underestimated.
“The dedication of my seven girls and especially their parents too will have to be replaced, but it will never be forgotten,” the coach remarked. “I am thankful for their commitment, their dedication and their hard work. Our ups and downs and to watch them grow on and off the field, it’s a bittersweet feeling right now. It is awesome that they are going to explore new adventures, but I am a little selfish and I do not want to see them go.”
However, at the same time Libby is excited to see how her returning players step up and build upon the experience of playing in a district championship game.
“I think it raises the bar,” the coach said. “The seven seniors we are losing are a huge impact and the rest of the team has big shoes to fill. I think the ones that have been playing a lot and the ones who may be my subs know the seniors’ legacy and they are going to hopefully step up their game and teach new faces we’ll have next season. Keeping the competitiveness, keeping the aggressiveness and fitness is key to doing that.”