By RICK PETERSON
The 2021 soccer season didn't get off to a great start for Shawnee Heights, with the T-Birds dropping a 5-1 decision to Class 6A powerhouse Washburn Rural in their season-opener.
But Nic Simons' T-Birds responded to that loss by winning 14 of their next 15 games, putting the capper on a 14-2-0 regular season with a 3-1 non-league victory over Manhattan Thursday night at the Bettis Family Sports Complex.
"We went into this year wanting to initally test where we were the first game of the season and we certainly found out,'' Simons said. "And we wanted to test what progress we made by the last game of the season and I think we did and we have made progress.
"Opening the season with a 5-1 loss is certainly humbling and we used that as motivation to play everybody else as competitively as we possibly could and I told the kids all year, 'We have to be tough and we have to have grit,' and they've shown it in the face of adversity.''
Shawnee Heights, which won the United Kansas Conference championship, never trailed against the 10-5-1 Indians after getting on the scoreboard at the 22:35 mark of the first half on a goal from junior Jovany Retana off an assist from sophomore Brennon Dodge.
The score remained 1-0 through the first half before Shawnee Heights scored twice within 19 seconds early in the second half to put the game out of reach.
T-Bird senior Garrison Johnson converted a penalty kick at the 32:34 mark of the second half and then junior Isaac Wilson made it 3-0 seconds later off an assist from junior Jordan Garvin.
Manhattan's lone score came on an own goal with 17:36 left to play, but the Indians couldn't muster any more serious scoring chances.
"We really haven't put together a compete game,'' Simons said. "We have had stretches of brilliance followed by some knucklehead stuff on the field, but this has probably been our most complete game that we've played all year.''
Shawnee Heights will be at home for the first round of the Class 5A playoffs next Tuesday. Postseason pairings will be determined on Saturday.
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS 3, MANHATTAN 1
Manhattan (10-5-1) 0 1 -- 1
Shawnee Heights (14-2-0) 1 2 -- 3
Manhattan -- Goal: Own goal.
Shawnee Heights -- Goals: Jovany Retana, Garrison Johnson, Isaac Wilson. Assists: Brennon Dodge, Jordan Garvin.