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Maize soccer players, from left: Katie McClure, Paige Swanson, Kelsey Quick and Hadley Davis are still one of the best teams in the state despite losing prolific scorer Whitney Lucas to an ACL injury.

Maize soccer players, from left: Katie McClure, Paige Swanson, Kelsey Quick and Hadley Davis are still one of the best teams in the state despite losing prolific scorer Whitney Lucas to an ACL injury. Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle | Buy this photo

Girls soccer: Maize moves forward without top player

Published March 27 at 6:28 p.m. | Last updated March 27 at 6:29 p.m.

The Maize girls soccer team opened its season Tuesday with a 10-0 win over Arkansas City. The game, which ended early in the second half due to the margin of victory, was an emotional one for senior forward Whitney Lucas.

Lucas is a two-time All-Metro selection with 117 goals in 61 games and has signed with UMKC. But the only on-field action she got Tuesday was in a pregame huddle.

She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee before the season, ending her high school career.

“We had our first game tonight,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this hard, but it’s killing me right now.”

Not having Lucas will be an adjustment for the Eagles.

“She’s probably the most prolific and tenacious forward that ever came out of Maize High School,” coach Jay Holmes said. “She’s set the school record for goals in a season, goals in a career, goals in a game through her junior year in high school.… It’s going to be tough to replace two goals a game.”

For junior defender Kelsey Quick, the loss of Lucas hits deeper than simply Lucas’ soccer skills.

“We’re best friends,” Quick said. “She was always my partner warming up. That hurt trying to find a new partner for warmups. I took it for granted that I’d get to play with her this season. Coming one season short hurts.”

Lucas is sticking around, though. Shortly after tearfully telling Holmes that she was certain there was a serious tear, she’d already moved on. She has been at Maize’s practices and she talked strategy with the coaches, yelled encouragement at the players during the Eagles’ first game.

“I think she can mentor the young freshmen and sophomores that we have,” Holmes said. “Those kids are the ones that will be responsible to carry the lion’s share of the load.”

There was a period of mourning by the Eagles as they considered the loss of Lucas and what it means to their team. But there’s been a conscious effort to look forward. The Eagles are eager to develop this team into one that can still be considered a Class 6A contender.

Maize has a strong tradition in girls soccer. The Eagles finished third in Class 6A each of the past four seasons, finishing fourth in 2009, second in 2008 and third in 2007.

A return to the final four can still happen, and it will start with the forwards. Junior Paige Swanson scored 16 goals and had eight assists in 2013 and has a similar physical presence that Lucas so often brought. Sophomore Katie McClure had 13 goals and four assists last season.

“Katie is a really quick and skillful player,” Holmes said. “She played a significant amount of time as a freshman, and I expect her to take it to the next level.… Paige is strong and athletic and she’s a physical force for us up top.”

Swanson is certain that she and McClure can handle the forward positions.

“With Whitney being out, me and Katie especially have to take on a different role to replace her,” Swanson said. “Katie is very quick, very good with the ball. She can get in the tight spaces and turn.”

McClure, who also played basketball for the Eagles, the 6A runnerup, isn’t wilting under any pressure.

“Now that Whitney’s gone, I know I have to step up,” she said. “I wouldn’t say they’re relying on me. We have Paige Swanson. But I want to be a big impact, step up and just play my game.”

Swanson and McClure won’t bear the full brunt of the pressure. Makayla Toth, a quick and skilled freshman, will get time, too.

And Maize has a strong midfield, including senior Hadley Davis, a four-year starter, who is strong and physical and is key in transitioning the team from defense to offense. Ashley Zane, Becca Andrus and Kelsey Isaacson will also play key roles.

Defensively it starts with Quick, and junior Addison Kingrey, both three-year starters. Junior Saige Baalman, a starter on the basketball team, returns to goal where she played the last half of the year in place of an injured Bailey Shupe.

“I feel much more comfortable with the chemistry on the defensive side of the ball than I do with the offense,” Holmes said. “It’s comforting to know that you have three kids that have played at a high level leading your defense. With Saige, Kingrey and Quick, we have that.”

Holmes paused.

“It just kills me that Whitney can’t play this year,” he said. “But injuries allow opportunities for others to step up. I’m looking for these girls to do that. Whitney’s a huge loss, but it’s an opportunity.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.