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How Wichita Northwest girls soccer team is back in Kansas high school quarterfinals

Wichita Eagle logo Wichita Eagle 5/25/2022 Taylor Eldridge, The Wichita Eagle

May 24—This season marked the first time Wichita Northwest senior Aimee Nunez played high school soccer.

But this wasn't a case of a player finding a new passion for the sport in their senior year, rather a case of bad luck for a player who has long been a standout player in the Wichita club circuit.

Nunez had her freshman season wiped out when she tore an anterior cruciate ligament in her knee. The 2020 spring season was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic and then another ACL tear prevented her from playing last season.

Finally healthy, Nunez, who has signed to play Division II soccer at William Jewell, has anchored a defense that has powered Northwest back to the Class 6A quarterfinals, where the Grizzlies (10-6-2) take on Washburn Rural (15-2-1) on Tuesday night.

"We've been more organized this year and she has been a big part of our success," Northwest coach Austin Clifton said. "If you don't get scored on, you can't lose."

That's exactly how Northwest won a regional championship last week, as the Grizzlies survived playing one player down for the final 60 minutes against Hutchinson in a game it won in a penalty kick shootout, then shut out the No. 2 overall seed in the Class 6A West bracket in a 1-0 victory at Dodge City.

Northwest has surrendered just 21 goals on the season, or 1.24 per game, playing against a top-notch schedule that has featured matches outside City League play against state powers like Washburn Rural, Manhattan, Dodge City, Maize and Derby.

While Nunez helps clean up play in front of goal, along with sophomore Keilann Heath and junior Leslie Bravo, it has been the play of senior goalkeeper Morgan Dunn that has helped the Grizzlies maintain 11 clean sheets in 18 games. Dunn, who has signed to play at Friends, has been integral in helping Northwest advance to the Class 6A quarterfinals for the second straight season, the first appearances by the program this far in the state playoffs since 2012.

"We have one of the best goalkeepers around," Clifton said. "She's been massive for us these last two years."

Northwest's attack has grown stronger as the season has progressed with the emergence of a pair sophomores in Anahi Ibarra-Arevalo (10 goals, 7 assists) and Angie Rodriguez-Guzman (6 goals, 6 assists), who have been the team's leading scorers.

That has allowed Clifton to move junior Payton Benoit to a false nine role in the offense, which means she plays forward at the top of the formation but often drifts back to the midfield to run point on the offense. Benoit has excelled in the new role, dishing out a team-high eight assists to go along with four assists.

"That's what has allowed our offense to really blossom," Clifton said. "Early in the season we really struggled possessing the ball when we got it, but Payton is so good at possessing. A lot of people want their strikes to be the ones scoring all of the goals, but she's a huge reason why we've added 10 goals to our total from last season against a much-tougher schedule."

Junior Grace Terhune is another key player for Northwest in the middle of the field. She's not a player who has gaudy statistics, but Clifton said she's a "ball-winner" for the Grizzlies and someone who sets the tone for the team.

Northwest has also benefited from the arrival of sophomore Merari Flores, a transfer from North, who has produced four goals and three assists as a midfielder. The Grizzlies have also had contributions from junior Zoe Baker, senior Reagan Crawford, sophomore Brooklyn Bohannon, freshman Lola Reida, freshman Raylen Grant, junior Gabriella Mota and sophomore Sawyer Ross.

The team's biggest challenge to date awaits with a road trip to 6A powerhouse Washburn Rural in a game to go to state, but Clifton said the team is filled with confidence, not just after taking down Dodge City on the road but also from the 1-1 draw the Grizzlies played at Washburn Rural less than three weeks ago.

"I don't think we've ever scored on them and I know we've never tied them, so that was a huge result for us," Clifton said. "We have a lot of confidence going into the game, but we know we have to play together and we have to fight as a team. We're battle-tested this year and we're ready for the next battle."

Tuesday's Kansas high school girls soccer quarterfinals

Class 6A

Wichita Northwest (10-6-2) at Washburn Rural (15-2-1), 6 p.m.

Class 5A

Andover (15-3) at Goddard Eisenhower (16-1-1), 6 p.m.

Maize (15-3) at Maize South (15-1-2), 6:30 p.m.

Class 4-1A

Buhler (10-7-1) at Mulvane (14-3-1), 6 p.m.

Circle (12-5-1) at McPherson (14-3-1), 6 p.m.

(c)2022 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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