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May 30—TOPEKA — Before Reagan Geisbrecht reached the Indians’ sideline, she dropped to her knees and buried her face into the turf at Hummer Sports Park.

Geisbrecht’s career wasn’t supposed to end with a loss, much less a loss in the consolation game. The Indians were supposed to play at 2 p.m. Saturday, not noon. They were supposed to play for a state title.

Instead, the Manhattan girls’ soccer team’s season ended with a 3-1 loss to Washburn Rural in the Class 6A third-place match. When Geisbrecht lifted her head, she walked along side her teammates to the opposite sideline, where no Indian smiled and most wept as they accepted their fourth-place medals.

What could head coach Mike Sanchez tell them?

“It’s hard,” Sanchez said. “You just have to give them hugs and let them know they had a great year.”

The Indians (15-5) will need time to process their disappointment before they acknowledge their success. Just 15 hours after losing a heartbreaking state semifinal against Shawnee Mission East, the Indians fell behind 3-0 against their Centennial League rivals.

Washburn Rural junior started the trouble by sending a cross to sophomore teammate Mackinly Rohn with about 28:30 remaining. Manhattan goalkeeper Taylor McHugh stopped Rohn’s first shot but could not recover in time to stop her second.

Carsyn McMaster scored five minutes later, and with 33:40 to play, Brooklyn Deleye headed a corner kick just passed the Indians’ goal line to make it 3-0.

The Indians, on the other hand, struggled to generate scoring opportunities after creating so many in Friday’s semifinal. The Indians hit the cross bar twice and narrowly missed a rebounding opportunity against Shawnee Mission East. But they couldn’t replicate those chances against Washburn Rural.

The Indians finished with 10 shots, but few threatened the Washburn Rural net.

By the time Maura Weins slotted Geisbrecht’s pass into the net with 9:48 to play, the Indians had run out of time.

“That’s how the game is,” Sanchez said. It can be great, but it can be cruel, too. We just didn’t create opportunities we had hoped.”

To combat the cruelty, Sanchez hugged. He hugged crying senior Marleigh Hutchinson on the walk from the medal ceremony to the Manhattan sideline. And he embraced Sam Grynkiewicz before Grynkiewicz left the Indians’ sideline for the team bus.

“Thank you, he told them. “You played great your whole time here. You were a great leader.”

“Played.” “Were.” As much as Sanchez’s words encouraged his players, they also reminded them of the end, and how it didn’t turn out the way they planned.

“It’s just really disappointing,” senior midfielder Faith Beyer said. “I know all the seniors wanted to go out winning more than we did this weekend.”

Beyer, whom Sanchez called a “high-spirit” player, ensured her teammates never missed the energy she added to the group despite her torn ACL. She never missed a practice, and on Saturday, just four days after undergoing surgery on her injured knee, she was the first teammate to hug Geisbrecht after the whistle blew.

Beyer, Geisbrecht and Hutchinson will attend Kansas State next year, where they will join forces with other Manhattan alums to form an intramural super team. Grynkiewicz will continue her career at Johnson County.

Between now and then, the Indians’ four foundational seniors will reminisce. And with time, they’ll appreciate the three straight state tournament runs they made under Sanchez. They’ll come to see the 2020-21 season as a success.

But on Saturday afternoon, when their stinging disappointment still throbbed, they couldn’t see that perspective. They were too close.

“It’s been a really good four years,” Beyer said. “It’s just sad, and there’s not much you can do right now.”