KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Lois Heuchan, a senior, buried her head into the shoulder of a coach. The tears were already streaming down from her eyes as a thick fog enveloped the field at Swope Soccer Villiage, creating a scene that matched the gloom felt by the KU women's soccer team as the final kick sailed over the bar.
It was on that field the Jayhawks, once picked to finish second in the Big 12 and with raised expectations after a non-conference win over defending national champion USC, saw their season come to an end. TCU defeated KU in penalty kicks, 4-2, in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament late Wednesday night.
“You take it for granted, every game, every practice,” said senior Kayla Morrison, her eyes red as she forced a smile. "You’re like, there’s always another one. There’s always another one. There’s always another bus ride. There’s always another stay in the hotels with each other.”
For Morrison and the senior class — less the return trip to Lawrence — there isn't.
Desperately hanging on through two overtime periods, the Jayhawks watched as chance after chance nearly ended their season. Senior goalkeeper Maddie Dobyns came up with a huge save on a shot that deflected off her gloves and nearly bounced into the goal behind her. Eva Eliasdotter knocked away another chance. A TCU goal felt imminent.
The final whistle breathed life into the possibility of survival. Really, it served only to elongate and intensify the eventual sting.
“It’s just really tough for them,” coach Mark Francis said of the seniors.
Grace Hagan, who was fouled outside the box in the second half of regulation to set up a goal on a free kick by Katie McClure, stood over the ball, using a short run up and knocking it low and to her right. TCU goalkeeper Katie Lund made a diving save.
Hagan rejoined her team and held her composure, but only until the end of the match. She placed both hands on her head and remained in place as the Jayhawks left the field for a final time. She was consoled by Heuchan and was “pretty devastated,” as described by a member of the KU athletics staff.
“Look, you had the guts to take one,” Francis told her. “So is life sometimes. You know?"
Still, Hagan’s miss didn’t end the game.
First there were the chances in regulation. After going up 1-0, the Jayhawks nearly added another goal.
McClure had a pair of chances, but one was saved and another fell wide. Hagan attempted a shot from just outside the box, but it was knocked away by Lund, who also calmly corralled an ambitious attempt from Heuchan in the 71st minute.
Unable to double the lead, KU watched as it simply evaporated. TCU’s Kayla Hill had a shot on goal, but Elise Reina narrowly knocked it away. Moments later, on a TCU corner, Dobyns punched the ball away from goal, but the rebound was headed back toward the net by Hill.
Dobyns was impeded by a pair of TCU players and fell to the ground. Morrison and Addisyn Merrick leapt to try and head the ball away, but it snuck by them and under the crossbar.
“We were actually making a substitution when they scored the goal,” Francis said. “We were running out of gas. … Maybe if we’d have done it a minute earlier or the ball had gone out quicker we maybe could’ve got those guys in, but that doesn’t matter now."
Behind from the offset in the eventual penalty-kick shootout, the Jayhawks converted on two of their first three penalties, but trailed 4-2 as Morrison stood over the ball for her attempt.
All the pressure was on the senior as she stepped up and took the shot.
“I kicked the ground and it went over,” she said. “It is what it is.”
A season of promise derailed by injury and inconsistency ended with a mark of 8-10-2.
Morrison, who tied a team record for consecutive matches started (83), and the other seniors — Dobyns, Heuchan and Hannah Lukinac — were unable to build upon the progress of the season before, which featured a second-place conference finish, both in the regular season and tournament, as well as a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I wish that we could be going down in history," Morrison said, "for something that the team accomplished."