Wildcat soccer drops sold-out home opener to Northern Iowa

Sophomore forward Tatum Wagner chases the ball in the game against University of Northern Iowa on Sept. 16, 2016, in the K-State Soccer Stadium. (Nathan Jones | The Collegian)

Nearly two years ago, the Kansas State soccer program was announced, and replaced equestrian as a Division 1 program at K-State. The choice was met with ire and anger from fans and players and families. Still, the decision had been made, and the soccer stadium was built.

Friday night, that stadium was filled. To capacity and then some as K-State fell to Northern Iowa 2-1.

Fans lined the balcony of Tointon Family Stadium next door. Fans lined the north sidelines behind the north goal. In typical student-section fashion, the south side of the bleachers only sat at halftime.

The official attendance was announced with 17 minutes remaining: 2,403. It was an NCAA Division 1 record for a women’s soccer game in Kansas.

K-State fell behind with just 21 seconds left in the first half, and fell further behind in the second minute of the second. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Miranda Larkin allowed two goals in a game for only the second time all season, letting in the second and third shots the Panthers got on goal.

“In the second half we had a lot of opportunities,” Dibbini said. “This game was basically a game of missed opportunities for us and we just couldn’t capitalize.”

In the 34th minute, redshirt freshman midfielder Dora Gallo launched a shot from about 30 yards away from the net that hit the crossbar on the top right side of the Panther net. It was one of only two shots on net in the first half by the Wildcats.

“I was really hoping it would go in,” Gallo said. “It really sucks (that the shot didn’t go in) but it just makes me want to work harder.”

Still, the shot didn’t go in, and even though the Wildcats got consistent pressure, they fell behind. Moving forward, Gallo said the team needs to improve its mentality.

“We don’t come in strong enough,” Gallo said. “We sometimes feel like we already have the game won, so I feel like we need to come in like we’re losing.”

Northern Iowa’s first goal came off the head of a UNI player who deflected in a corner. Dibinni said the team has worked hard to defend those types of plays, but has a ways to go.

Dibinni said going into halftime down 1-0 after a goal on one of those plays was tough

“One area that we’ve struggled with all season is defending set-pieces,” Dibinni said. “If you look at I think our eight or nine goals that were scored on us this year, I think six of them have been on just defending set-pieces.”

Sophomore forward Tatum Wagner scored the lone K-State goal in the 81st minute, but it was too little too late.

“We were hoping to get one a little bit earlier so we had more time the rest of the half,” Dibbini said. “Unfortunately we got it late and there was not much time.”

But even though the Wildcats lost the game, this night was not as much about what was lost as it was about what began.

Wagner said scoring in front of all the fans was a great feeling.

“Scoring, especially with all these fans is definitely one of the best feelings,” Wagner said. “There’s so many people here and that’s what they came to see.”

Wagner said it felt good to be home after spending eight weeks on the road.

“We’ve been waiting for it all season and it was better than expected,” Wagner said.

On a cloudy night in Manhattan, Kansas, 2,400 fans packed the K-State Soccer Complex and welcomed soccer to the Little Apple.

“It was great to get out here,” Dibbini said. “It was great to see a huge crowd out here.”

K-State’s next game is against Oral Roberts next Friday at 7 p.m.

Shelton grew up in the desert southwest. A native of Lancaster, California, he mostly grew up in south Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado before moving to Kansas and graduating from Junction City High School. He started working as a news writer for the Collegian in 2009 before taking a three-year break from college. He returned to K-State in 2013 and has since worked for the news desk, feature desk, as a copy editor and now as a sports writer. He enjoys tap dancing, writing anything possible, reading court opinions and watching Arizona Coyotes hockey.