By ISAAC DEER
With Thursday night’s 3-0 win over Topeka West, Shawnee Heights claimed the United Kansas Conference soccer title on its home turf at the Bettis Family Sports Complex.
Shawnee Heights, which improved to 7-4-1 overall, went wire to wire for the UKC crown, winning all seven of its matches in the conference.
Offensively the Thunderbirds have outscored United Kansas Conference opponents by a 20-3 margin. Jordan Garvin, Jovany Retana, Jesus Carrillo-Cardona and company are making it a complex task for the opposition to defend them.
“Sometimes I think I give too much credit to our possession and not enough to what our offense can do,” Shawnee Heights coach Nic Simons said. “There are times where it looks like we can never miss. We do a lot of great things through the midfield which has helped us win some games this year.”
The Shawnee Heights offense has been complimented by its high-flying defense. In its seven-game undefeated conference streak, the Thunderbirds have shutout five of their opponents, including Topeka West.
Goalkeeper Carter Freeman has wowed his teammates and coaches with his defensive efforts in the five shutouts. Freeman hasn’t given up a goal to a conference opponent since September 15th against Seaman.
Besides Freeman, a strong defense consisting of Jose “Fico” Guajardo-Arizpe, Tyler Lincoln, Jatin Benson and Jack Phillips has proven to be one of the most technically-sound defenses in the conference.
“I can’t praise them enough,” Simons said. “We graduated three seniors last year that started and played on the backline since they were freshmen or sophomores. Coming into this year, the defense was the question mark that I had. This year, this defense has been nothing short of amazing.
“We haven’t been blown out this year on defense. Even in our losses, our defense has played perennial state-level teams like Washburn Rural, Free State and Lawrence High extremely tough. I can’t praise our defensive guys’ toughness enough.”
In order for this impressive Thunderbird squad to win the United Kansas Conference, they would have to beat a Topeka West team that has recently found its rhythm.
The Chargers had won their last two games against Leavenworth and Basehor-Linwood entering Thursday's contest. The Topeka West win over Leavenworth was the first time its squad had won since 2020.
It's no secret that senior forward Garvin has been playing excellent soccer in the 2022 campaign. When Garvin has multiple defenders in his area, he excels no matter the circumstances.
“Jordan seems to find goals when it appears that there won’t be any,” Simons said. “The way he plays is excellent. He is truly a rare talent.”
Garvin netted the first goal of the conference matchup on Thursday night. With several Chargers in front of him, Garvin was able to nail a goal with the front of his foot in front of the penalty area with 25:18 remaining in the first half.
Garvin’s goal marked the Thunderbirds' third consecutive game where Garvin scored the first goal. Within that span, all three of his opening-game goals have come within the first 16:02 of the contests.
That would be the only goal of the first half for either team.
It took awhile for the Shawnee Heights offense to pour it on, but when its offense came alive, it showed up quickly.
With 11:32 remaining in the second half, Carrillo-Cardona would kick in the goal in a heavily-trafficked box, giving Shawnee Heights a 2-0 lead.
If you blinked, you probably missed the Thunderbirds' third goal of the night.
Retana followed up Carrillo-Cardona’s goal just 29 seconds later with a successful shot of his own that was set up by Carrillo-Cardona. That gave Shawnee Heights a three-goal lead with 11:03 remaining in the contest.
Shawnee Heights (7-4-1, 7-0) will hit the road to take on Hayden in a non-conference matchup next Tuesday while Topeka West (2-9-1, 2-4-1) will travel to Junction City.
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS 3, TOPEKA WEST 0
Topeka West (2-9-1, 2-4-1) – 0 0 – 0
Shawnee Heights (7-4-1, 7-0) – 1 2 – 3
Goals: Shawnee Heights – Garvin, Carrillo-Cardona, Retana.
Assists: Shawnee Heights – Carrillo-Cardona.
Shutout: Shawnee Heights – Freeman.