If the Union soccer Lady ’Cats felt like they had a case of déjà vu Saturday, there was a reason.
Union (26-3-1) saw its season end for a second consecutive year with a loss to Kearney (21-3) in the MSHSAA Class 3 third-place game, 4-1.
“I actually was more pleased with the way the girls played today than they played yesterday,” Union Head Coach Matt Fennessey said. “There was a lot of heart and determination out there today. We played like a true team.”
Fennessey said it was another excellent season.
“We tied our best-ever finish,” Fennessey said. “I hope these girls don’t take this for granted. We’ve had soccer since 1986 and this has happened twice. It doesn’t happen every year. This is a special group doing special things right now. To go to the final four in back-to-back years speaks of level of soccer they have and their commitment. We’ve got work to do to get back here and we want to win a game here. Obviously, I’m extremely excited about our girls and the way that they’re playing.”
Both teams entered Saturday’s noon game coming off of losses in Friday’s semifinals. Union fell to Rockwood Summit, 2-0, while Kearney was a 3-2 loser against St. Dominic.
Kearney returned two seniors to the lineup for the game who had missed the semifinal due to red cards in the quarterfinals. Union was playing without two starters who were part of a wedding.
“The team that was here did a great job,” Fennessey said. “We’re not going to make any excuses. They stepped up and played really well. Maddie Helling and Gigi Gore had to move a little bit. Aubrie Golus stepped in and marked Caroline Kelly early on and did a good job. It’s a tall order for a freshman. Emily Gaebe had one of her best games in the last three weeks. It was a combination of a lot of different players stepping up to fill those shoes.”
Despite that, Union was able to attack the Kearney zone early and force saves. Union had nine more shots in Saturday’s game than it put on goal Friday.
“I think if you look at the scoring chances, we had the lion’s share of them, we just weren’t able to finish,” Fennessey said. “We just weren’t able to finish. Their keeper made a real nice save against Maliyah Minor early on. Emily Gaebe was point-blank on and the keeper made a nice save. You’ve got to have a couple of those go your way.”
For the second consecutive day, the opposing team’s No. 3 did the damage. This time, it was junior Kelly who scored all four Kearney goals.
Union got one from sophomore Gaebe, but it was surrounded on both sides by two Kelly goals.
“We knew after seeing them play at the Parkway Showcase and from our game last year that it would be a physical game,” Fennessey said. “It was going to be competitive and it didn’t disappoint. I thought the referee did an outstanding job controlling things and calling it evenly. We just were on the short end today.”
Kearney led 2-0 at the half.
Kearney opened scoring on a penalty kick after Kelly was taken down in the box. Kelly stepped to the line and hit the back of the net at the 20:29 mark.
Kelly scored again at the 33:27 mark with Abby Couch assisting. Kelly attacked up the left middle and was able to beat two defenders into the box for her shot.
Union had a chance to score early in the second half after Gaebe was pulled down in the box. While being played physically, Gaebe avoided going down while being grabbed and pushed. This time, even she couldn’t stay upright and the referee pointed to the spot.
Grace Weiss, one of Union’s top shooters during practice drills, hammered her shot, but it went over.
“You can’t take those things for granted,” Fennessey said. “Grace was just unlucky. She nails them all of the time during practice and she’s one of our best penalty kick takers. We asked her to step up there and she knew it. She just missed. It’s part of the game and it happens. What I loved was that she kept her spirits up and made several good plays running down the wing. She kept working.”
Union did get on the scoreboard soon after that. Gaebe got to a Maddie Helling corner kick to head it in for her 51st goal of the season. Union had a lifeline.
However, Kelly made it tougher by scoring 1:05 later on an assist by Casi Brown.
Kelly added her final goal, her 41st of the season, on an unassisted marker at the 64:47 mark.
Shots were nearly even with Kearney holding an 18-17 edge. Each team put 11 shots on goal.
Union outshot Kearney in the first half, 9-7, but Kearney had 11 shots to Union’s eight in the second half.
Kearney’s Mayson Behney recorded six saves in the first half and four in the second half. Hannah Olive made three saves for Union in the first half and four in the second half.
Union had nine corner kicks with four in the first half and five in the second half. Kearney had three corner kicks in each half.
Union was whistled for 14 fouls, seven in each half. Kearney had three fouls in each half for a total of six.
For Union, Gaebe had the most shots, putting five of her eight on target.
Minor had two shots, both on target.
Kaitlyn Hobson, Ella Keltner, Helling and Sami Starling each has one shot on goal.
Union’s bench got even shorter in the second half after defender Golus went down with a head injury and was unable to return.
Kelly led Kearney with seven of her 11 shots going on net for four goals.
Lilian Hollis and Abigail Logan each had two shots on target.
“It’s hard to believe the year is over,” Fennessey said. “You got through all of the ups and downs and ins and out and all of a sudden, it’s over. The spring girls soccer season always seems to go fast.”
Fennessey said weather was a factor this year.
“We started off so cold and then had horrible weather at the Parkway Showcase,” Fennessey said. “Then you get to days like this where heat is a factor. You’ve got to do it all in the spring.”
Union graduates three players from this team with Keltner, Gigi Gore and Addie Davis leaving a legacy of leading the team to its two best-ever finishes of fourth place.
“We’re definitely going to miss our three seniors,” Fennessey said. “Ella, Gigi and Addie have given us a lot of leadership. Between the three of them, they’ve given us 12 years of varsity experience. They’re going to be missed. They got to two final fours and that’s outstanding.”