There was a time when Rowland Hall stood uncontested year after year as the top dog in 2A.

Then 2021 happened, breaking a four-year championship streak. 2022 saw Rowland Hall back at the top, but with the return of head coach Bobby Kennedy this season, it remained to be seen if the Winged Lions were ready to stay there again.

On Saturday night, that question was answered.

Senior Zakrie Smith finished her career with Rowland Hall in the best possible way, recording a hat trick as the No. 2 Winged Lions cemented back-to-back 2A state championships with a thrilling 4-3 win over No. 5 St. Joseph.

“We’re known for winning,” Smith said. “Rowland Hall is always going to be the best. It means so much to get state title after state title, and we love it.”

Smith finished her high school career with 52 goals and 17 assists.

Whether by design or just the nerves of the day, championship soccer games are typically defensively-dominated games, but when it comes to the Winged Lions, Kennedy said, “that’s not in their DNA.”

“I wish it was,” he said. “I wish we could be a little bit more responsible on the defensive side of the ball, but it wasn’t something I could coach into them, so I knew it was going to be a little bit like a lacrosse or hockey score.”

Both teams scored in the first 10 minutes of the match Saturday as St. Joseph’s Sofie Evans delivered the first goal of the game, turning at the top of the penalty box for a strike right over the goalie’s head, giving the Jayhawks a 1-0 lead.

The goal fired up Rowland Hall, and the Winged Lions quickly pressed the Jayhawks defense. In the ninth minute, Paige Connery earned a penalty kick and drilled it to tie up the score.

For most of the rest of the first half, the Jayhawks had few chances as the Rowland Hall defense clamped down on the offensive pressure and lived in St. Joseph’s backfield.

Then, despite numerous saves by Jayhawks goalie Cicily Flores, the Winged Lions finally got a perfect opportunity when Maya Eisner delivered a cross right to left to Smith that just evaded the outstretched foot of a defender.

With just a charging Flores to beat, Smith put in the kick to give Rowland Hall a 2-1 lead, one it took into halftime.

The first 10 minutes of the second half turned into a shootout on the pitch. Immediately from the opening kick of the half, Rowland Hall put the pressure right back on.

Connery gathered up the possession within the 52nd minute, went down field and crossed right, delivering an assist into the goal box for Eisner to chip in.

Down 3-1, St. Joseph hit right back as Evans got inside the penalty box and delivered a strike similar to her first, her 30th goal of the year.

But less than 30 seconds later, Smith broke through the defense with the ball and shot. Flores blocked it, but with no one to recover, Smith took advantage, dashed over and buried it into an empty net for a 4-2 Rowland Hall lead.

“From the get-go in our season, we’ve always been an offensive-minded team,” Smith said. “We are not known for our defense. We just power through. We get goals and we win.”

Rowland Hall put the pressure back on St. Joseph’s defense for another several minutes, and it seemed to be over with 10 minutes to go, but in the 72nd minute, Jayhawk forward Abbie Gough, the team’s leading scorer, finally got free and drilled an unassisted goal from the left side of the penalty box, her 40th goal of the season.

Suddenly, the last eight minutes were an absolute thrill on both sides as the small 2A-sized fan sections roared with support the rest of the way. Try as they might, the Jayhawks got no closer as Gough’s second attempt was saved, and Rowland Hall salted away the final minutes.

The Winged Lions have long ruled the summit of 2A, and this season was no different, but with five seniors graduating and St. Joseph’s returning both Gough and Evans, the possibility of a rematch in 2024 seems high.

Is Rowland Hall back for good?

“Good question,” Kennedy said with a smile.