Butler wins districts, qualifies for its first national tournament

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The Butler soccer team is headed to the NJCAA national tournament for the first time in program history following a shootout 3-2 win over Laramie County (Wyo.) in the District B championship match on Saturday.

Butler had advanced to the championship match with a 1-0 win over No. 8 North Idaho College on Friday, getting a first-half goal by Abby Ponce' and holding on defensively throughout the second half to earn the win. Laramie had advanced with a 2-1 overtime victory over Hutchinson.

On Saturday, a 30 mile per hour wind posed a challenge to both teams. No. 13 Laramie County had the wind at its back in the first half, and took advantage by scoring a goal in the 34th minute.

Butler would have the wind at its back in the second half and scored its first goal on a corner kick by Stephanie Bonilla that was netted by Ponce' just six minutes into the period. The second goal came 11 minutes later on a shot by Ponce' that the Laramie goalkeeper could not catch cleanly. Kelsey Gresham, playing in a reserve role, was in the right place to boot the deflected ball into the net to put Butler ahead 2-1.

Up by a goal with less than 25 minutes to play, Butler looked to be in good shape to earn the win in regulation with the stiff wind in Laramie's face. But a slide tackle in the box by defender Kelsey Garrison gave Laramie a penalty kick, which it scored to tie the match.

After two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, the match went to a shootout. After the first four rounds, each team had three goals. Heading into the deciding fifth round, Laramie shot first and Butler's sophomore goalkeeper Mel Nuessen made her second save of the shootout. Butler sent its final player to the line. Hutchinson native Kaila Sneath, playing on the same field where she played her high school soccer, snuck her shot just inside the right post setting off a wild Butler celebration that included the team and its fans.

The Grizzlies are now 19-3-1 on the season, setting a program record for wins in a season, eclipsing the 2005 squad that went 18-1-1. Included is a 5-2 record against teams ranked in the top 15 of the NJCAA poll at the time of the game.

The national tournament will be held Nov. 17-20 in Melbourne, Fla.