Both encountered challenges along the way, but the St. Dominic and Lutheran South soccer teams are right where they expected to be -- competing for a Class 2 championship this weekend in suburban Kansas City.
“Honestly, we've had KC in the back our minds since last year when we lost to (eventual Class 2 state runner-up) Trinity in sectionals,'' said Jerry Amsler, in his second season as head coach at South. “We returned most of the key guys from a 16-9-2 team and pretty much picked up right where we left off. What I like about the kids at South is that they're extremely competitive and coachable. They bought into what we're trying to do, and they've worked hard to make the system work.''
South enjoyed some early success when the Missouri State High School Activities Association went to two classes for boys soccer, finishing as state runner-up in 1985, 1988 and 1989. But the Lancers have not been to the final four since.
Ranked third among STLhighschoolsports.com small schools, South (22-5-1) will meet Carthage (21-8) in the Class 2 semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at Blue Springs High. Top-ranked St. Dominic (20-6) and Smithville (23-3) will play in the 11 a.m. semifinal.
The Class 2 title match is scheduled for noon Saturday at Blue Springs South.
“At this point, all I know about Carthage is that they're mostly Latin American players, and that's a style of soccer we don't see much here in St. Louis,'' said Amsler, a Vianney alumnus. “I'm trying to find out more, but at this point our focus has to be on doing what we do and do it as well as possible. We want to possess the ball, use our size and attack when we get the chance.''
The Lancers, who got by Affton 1-0 in overtime to win districts and then battled past St. Mary's 2-1 in sectionals, feature a high-powered attack that has produced 88 goals this fall. Senior Zach Jones (28 goals, 10 assists) and junior Parker Van Nest (13 goals, 18 assists) are the team's top scorers.
At the other end, junior goalkeeper Aaron Hohenstein (22 wins, 9 shutouts) and senior centerback Trevor Jost (6 goals, 5 assists) set the tone.
“If we play our game, we know we can play with anyone in the state,'' Amsler said. “This weekend, I guess we'll get a chance to prove it.''
Top-ranked St. Dominic looks for title No. 4
Like South, St. Dominic enters the weekend with a limited scouting report on Smithville.
“We know they've been here the last three years, so they must be doing something right,'' Crusaders coach Greg Koeller said. “At the same time, our guys are ready. We've played a strong schedule, we've had a good season and we're looking to finish strong.''
The Crusaders, who've spent the entire season atop the area small-school rankings, are solid all over the field. In goal, both Tommy Geile (10-5, 7 shutouts, 0.44 GAA) and fellow junior Logan Feldmann (9-1, 5 shutouts, 0.80 GAA) have enjoyed big seasons. David McCoy and Sam Kluba lead the way defensively, with fellow seniors Mark Steiniger (8 goals, 4 assists) and Collin Hennessy (9 goals, 2 assists) setting the pace in the midfield. Other top scoring threats on the deep and versatile squad are juniors Dominic Recca (8 goals, 6 assists) and Conor Baker (5 goals, 7 assists).
The Crusaders are coming off one of their toughest tests of the season. In the quarterfinals, they outlasted visiting Parkway Central 1-0, winning in sudden-death penalty kicks.
“We have a number of guys capable of scoring, and we tend to spread it around,'' said Koeller, who coached the Crusaders to Class 2 titles in 2004, 2008 and 2009. “But as anyone who's been around this game knows, the toughest thing to do is put the ball in the net, especially at this point of the season. The game against Parkway Central was a battle to the very end, and fortunately we'll have a little time to regroup.
“We're honored to be in this position, and we're going to do everything we can to bring home another championship.''