KU Soccer: Champs!

In a late-night conversation with Meghan Miller the night before KU's final regular season soccer game, Miller was all business.

Kansas needed to beat Iowa State on Senior Day at the Jayhawk Soccer Complex to capture its first league championship and Miller made it crystal clear that the Jayhawks had no intentions of letting this opportunity slip away. Not after the year they'd had. Not on their turf. No way, no chance, no how.

"We will take care of business early and leave no doubt," Miller said with conviction in her voice.

Fast forward 19 hours to 5 p.m., October 30th. The largest and noisiest home crowd in the program's 10-year history roared its approval as Miller and her teammates stood in a circle on their field, arms draped around each others' shoulders screaming the Rock Chalk chant at the top of their lungs.

"We came out right from the beginning and for the first 25 minutes we were running on all cylinders. The adrenaline was pumping, you could tell," Miller said KU's dominating performance. "It kind of caught up with us at the end of the first half, but we stayed composed. Iowa State's a great team but we didn't let them in it at all. We just came out in the beginning and took it to ‘em."

The scoreboard didn't lie: Kansas 4, Iowa State 0.

Big 12 Champions.

"We knew this was going to be a huge game," said All-America forward Caroline Smith, who scored two goals in the victory. "To have it be our last home game, Senior Day, and we were playing for the Big 12 title, and for the seven seniors… We just really wanted to do it for the seniors. They've been here since the program really started getting better and it was great to do it for them."

The championship was a long time coming for this bunch. Starting with the arrival of Miller, Monica Brothers, Amy Geha, Stacy Leeper, Gabby Quiggle, Rachel Gilfillan and Lauren Williams, Kansas began to assert itself as a threat to the league's superpowers.

The Jayhawks finished fourth when that group was freshmen in 2001. They slipped to sixth in 2002 but surged to third last season. Given the steady progress, many of them knew 2004 could be the year they emerged as champions.

"We knew what talent we had," Gilfillan said. "We knew we had the capability of doing really well and going really far this year. It was just up to us to see if we wanted to step up and answer the challenge."

The Jayhawks knew they were good, but the rest of the league's coaches didn't seem to get it. They picked Kansas to finish fifth in the preseason poll, a second straight snub after the 2003 squad was slated as seventh in the preseason poll.

"We've always known that we're a good team and we don't really care what people say," Miller said. "Whether we're picked fifth or tenth, it's just more incentive for us to go out and play hard. Ratings don't matter."

Preseason ratings never were a factor. Kansas spent almost the entire season ranked in the top 10 nationally. They lost their league-opener to Nebraska but then rattled off made steady march up the conference standings.

"It was always in sight," Brothers said of the championship. "It was always in grasp, and now that it's realistic it's so exciting."

Perfect was the ideal word for the way the Jayhawks played. They manhandled the Cyclones from the opening kick. Gilfillan buried the game-winner in the 10th minute and Kansas never looked back.

Smith slipped a shot past the ISU keeper off an assist from Quiggle that gave KU a 2-0 advantage at halftime. Smith struck again just over a minute into the second half, and then Brothers smashed home the final goal off an assist from Smith in the 54th minute.

With 36 minutes left in the game, sixth-year KU coach Mark Francis began taking out his seniors one-by-one to standing ovations. The record crowd of 886 crimson-and-blue-clad fans erupted as each senior left the home pitch for the last time.

Fans chanted "Big 12 Champs!". The team screamed "Rock Chalk!" The players sprinted along the fence high-fiving every fan in sight and then huddled around their championship banner.

There were hugs, tears and tons of smiles as the soccer team joined men's and women's basketball and men's golf as the only KU programs to win a Big 12 title.

It was a benchmark moment in Jayhawk history and a day that won't be forgotten.

"It's perfect," Brothers said. "The program has come a long ways, but it was inevitable with the people we bring in – Stacy Leeper, Meghan Miller, Lauren Williams, everybody – just the work ethic. We have come a very long ways, and this shows."

Photo Gallery (Jeff Jacobsen)

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