Halftime speech energizes Wildcats soccer team to first home win

The K-State Woman's Soccer team played Oral Roberts on the newly completed woman's soccer field on Sept. 23, 2016. (Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

The Kansas State Wildcats soccer team won earned their first home win in program history, beating the South Dakota Coyotes 2-0 Sunday afternoon.

The win snapped a four-game winless streak by the Wildcats, who had lost three straight before taking a lead against Oral Roberts Friday, only to see that lead disappear and end up in a double-overtime draw.

The Wildcats came out slow in the game and allowed the then 1-8-1 Coyotes to hang with them.

“In the first half we were not on it,” said redshirt sophomore forward Kim Braddock, who scored K-State’s first goal in the game. “We were sitting in, dropping to their level.”

A brief talk by head coach Mike Dibbini at halftime was all it took for the Wildcats to get their legs under them.

“He gave us a tough ultimatum this week for practices,” Braddock said. “So we decided to go out there and work our butts off to get this win.”

Dibbini said the team’s legs came slowly in part because of the double-overtime game Friday.

“It took a nice halftime pep talk for them to come out fired up in the second half,” Dibbini said. “The first half looked like we were in concrete the whole half. We just weren’t dynamic and we weren’t moving the way were capable of doing.”

A motivational speech

Dibbini said he essentially told the team they’d have a very effort-focused if they did not put effort into the game. He said his version of the halftime speech was that it went like this:

“Basically if they’re not going to bring the urgency and the effort, the non-negotiables, this week’s practice is going to reflect mainly on no (soccer) balls and just a lot of effort in practices,” Dibbini said. “They responded well to that. It wasn’t a matter of X’s and O’s, it was a matter of just turning up the effort and winning the first ball and the second ball, and you saw that immediately in the first 15 minutes of that second half to put the game away.”

The team responded alright. They scored two goals in the first 15 minutes of the second. It was the first time the team had scored multiple goals in a game since they beat Oakland 6-0 on Aug.26. That win, nearly a month ahead of Sunday’s, was the first win ever for the program. Sunday’s was merely their first home one.

That didn’t mean it didn’t feel good. Sophomore forward Tatum Wagner said it felt a lot better walking off the field in front of their fans with a win than a loss or a tie.

“They come out and support us and it’s good to give back to them and show them that we can win,” Wagner said.

Braddock opened the scoring for the Wildcats in the 55th minute of play when she took advantage of a free kick from goalkeeper’s right and beat South Dakota’s goalkeeper with a shot just above her outstretched hands.

Then, just five minutes later, a familiar face made an appearance. Wagner, who scored the first goal for the Wildcats on their own field against Northern Iowa, chased down a slow pass between a South Dakota defender and the goalie, maneuvered it past the suddenly frantic block attempt by the goalkeeper, then fended off the defender before putting the ball into a wide-open net.

It was a goal those in the stands might have seen coming even in the first half, when Wagner repeatedly received long passes and charged into South Dakota territory before being overwhelmed by defenders. Wagner now leads the team with three goals this season.

Goalkeeping keeps the Wildcats in it

But before the Wildcats could get to the second half scoring outbreak, they had to get there without falling behind, and redshirt junior goalkeeper Miranda Larkin made sure they did.

Larkin made three saves in the first half and largely held the Wildcats in the game. On one shot she faced in the first, she moved to her left and perfectly timed a jump toward the top corner of her net, fully extending her hands above her 5’8 frame to tip away a shot.

It was one of five saves in the game for Larkin, who got the win Sunday after making just five saves, compared to the five she faced in the first half alone of Friday’s double-overtime draw. In all, Larkin made a career-high 10 saves in that game.

Sunday’s offense, combined with Larkin’s efforts, gave Larkin her fourth shutout in nine games played this season and in the 11 total games the team has played, meaning Larkin has earned shutouts in nearly half of her starts, shut out more than a third of the team’s total opponents this season. She has stopped 88 percent of the shots she has faced.

The chords of “Bohemian Rhapsody” played through the stadium speakers when the clock finally hit 0:00 Sunday afternoon.

After a brief gathering with South Dakota for handshakes, the Wildcats joined together as a team, walked over to the sidelines, and finally got to celebrate with their very own fans.

K-State next plays the University of Missouri-Kansas City Roos at 7 p.m. Friday night in the Wildcats’ season home finale.

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.