After two weeks without play, Kansas State will finally get back onto the pitch Friday night at Buser Family Park to square off against rival Kansas in the annual Sunflower Showdown.
The Wildcats’ last match was supposed to be played Friday, Sept. 26 against TCU, but was postponed after K-State met the requirements to postpone a match per the Big 12 soccer match interruption guidelines.
The guidelines state that each team must have 14 players available to play — one of those players being a goalkeeper.
The Wildcats had enough field players to play last Friday, but struggled in their goalkeeper position. Senior Rachel Harris is out for the season with an injury and the other three goalkeepers were in quarantine after close contact with COVID-19, so K-State had zero goalkeepers to field for last Friday’s match.
At the moment, K-State still has 13 players out due to either injuries or COVID-19 precautions, leaving a total of 18 players available for Friday night’s match.
“It’s always tough and challenging from the coaching perspective just from the fact that you prepare all week with certain personnel with more reps and then all of a sudden the night before you leave you may lose three or four of that personnel,” head coach Mike Dibbini said. “That really impacts a young team that has depth, but not experience and that’s the situation that we’ve had in the past couple of games.”
Among the 18 players available to play against KU, the Wildcats have one goalkeeper — redshirt freshman Cameron Illingworth, who hasn’t seen game action in goal since she arrived in Manhattan in 2019. Because of the situation, Illingworth will have to play in her first-ever match as a Wildcat against the No. 6 ranked team in the nation.
“Honestly I think she’s going to be pretty nervous because it’s her first start against your rival,” Dibbini said. “If she can get to the point where she can relax and play confident, I think she can bring some things to the match that will help us be confident.”
While things have been rough for the Wildcats early in the 2020 season — two postponed matches and two losses on their record by a combined score of 7-1 —senior defender Shelby Lierz said the team is focused on what is ahead and not the past.
“It’s been hard with the postponement of games, and with just how the season has started off,” Lierz said. “Every day though we get out here and try to get better and like Coach says we want to get 1 percent better every day, so after 100 days we’re 100 percent better. So just having that mindset of next thing, next thing, don’t worry about what happened in the past, we’ll learn from our mistakes and be able to move forward.”
Things have been especially tough for senior midfielder Brookelynn Entz — she had to sit out the Wildcats season opener due to an injury and has only gotten to play in one match this year, a 4-1 loss at West Virginia.
Entz said the extra week off has given the Wildcats an advantage in their upcoming match against the Jayhawks.
“I think we’ve had the ability to go hard in practice and work on what we need to work on,” Entz said. “We’ve been able to prepare for two weeks now for KU and I think that will be an advantage for us.”
K-State has fallen to KU two years in a row — most recently they suffered a 3-0 defeat in Lawrence last year. However, the seniors who have been on the team since 2017 know the taste of victory against KU. The Wildcats defeated the Jayhawks 1-0 in the first-ever meeting between the teams three years ago.
The seniors who were freshmen at the time want to be able to have that same feeling again on Friday night.
“We’ve been preaching beat KU, we know what that feeling was like and it was amazing,” Lierz said. “I think just instilling into the freshmen and underclassmen’s minds that it’s going to be tough, but we’ve been through it before, we’ve beaten them, so it’s definitely possible.”
Coach Dibbini has noticed the team’s desire not only to play on Friday night, but to come away with an upset against the No. 6 team in the country. He thinks the opportunity is motivation enough for the girls.
“As far as the motivation I don’t think I can say much more than their understanding that it’s the sunflower showdown and that they’re ready to play, they want to have fun,” Dibbini said. “Having the opportunity to play the defending Big 12 conference tournament champions and a top 10 team right now, I think that itself provides motivation.”
Friday night’s match against KU will serve as the team’s unity game. The team will wear Black Lives Matter patches on their jerseys, among other things to show the team’s support for the movement.
Game time is 7 p.m. on Friday night at Buser Family Park with a crowd size that has been reduced to 25 percent capacity. The match can be seen live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and listened to on 101.5 KROCK and on the K-State Sports website.