Karson Gibbs could have remained on the sidelines this season. No one would have blamed the Fort Zumwalt South High soccer star.
Instead, Gibbs chose the path of most resistance. With two partially torn menisci in his left knee, the forward took the field and played through the pain, understanding how much there was to gain.
“I just hoped it wouldn’t get any worse,” said Gibbs, who suffered the tears over the summer during his club season.
Gibbs’ decision to play couldn’t have produced better results. The Bulldogs (25-3) won their final 15 games to earn their second consecutive Class 3 state championship and their third in four years.
The Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys soccer player of the year for the second successive season, Gibbs registered 28 goals and 13 assists. The two-time All-American finished his remarkable career with 113 goals and 53 assists, powering Fort Zumwalt South to a 94-18 record.
Gibbs acknowledged his speed tailed off this season because of the knee discomfort, but his instincts and steely resolve served him well.
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“I could tell throughout the entire season that I wasn’t as fast as last year. Last year, I finished the ball more,” said Gibbs, who had 49 goals and 15 assists as a junior when the Bulldogs were 23-4. “But considering what I had to go through with my leg, and not being able to run completely … it was pretty cool that I got to do what I did. It was good to finish the season off the way we did."
Layne said a physically compromised Gibbs was still a genuine weapon for the Bulldogs.
Opposing teams had to account for his presence, and teammates’ confidence level soared knowing Gibbs was on the field with them.
“We knew he wasn’t going to be 100 percent,” Layne said. “The crazy part about it is I think there were days when Karson was out there running around at 50 or 60 percent of what Karson is. For him to still have the year that he did is absolutely incredible. He wasn’t as explosive as what he’s been in the past, but he was able to somehow get through it. He’s the ultimate competitor.”
Gibbs had one goal and three assists Nov. 19 as Fort Zumwalt South erased an early deficit to defeat Van Horn 4-2 in a Class 3 state semifinal. The Bulldogs then fell behind Ladue in the championship game the next day, but Gibbs scored the tying goal in the second half before senior Ryan Harvatin’s penalty kick gave them a 2-1 victory.
“I remember we went down 1-0 (against Ladue) and I was thinking to myself, ‘Stay calm,’ ” Gibbs said, recalling that it was the third consecutive game in which the Bulldogs had fallen behind 1-0. “I had to make sure I helped my team stay calm in that situation and continue to keep the ball, possess it and do what we do as a team. Scoring the tying goal — especially my senior season, (in the) state final, to get the team going — was pretty special.
“It really was the whole team. I didn’t see a single kid out there get nervous, get frantic. We all stayed calm and did what we did.”
Layne is a “glass half-full” type of person when it comes to analyzing Gibbs’ statistics. Yes, they were off the sizzling pace of last season, but the circumstances have to be evaluated.
“Some might look at it as him not getting to the level he was as a junior,” Layne said. “I would think of it the other way around. Given what he was trying to overcome — the injuries that he had — he actually achieved more this year than what he did last year.
“He’s always been a big-game player; he always wants to shine in a big game. It’s really hard to find those types of players. When we needed something to happen, he made it happen. Karson never got rattled. He stayed calm and composed. When opportunities came, he made the best of them. That’s what separates Karson from the others.”
Gibbs, the son of Brandon and Jen, underwent surgery to repair the knee three days after the state championship game. He will join the St. Louis City under-23 developmental team in the spring. Gibbs said his younger brother, Ryley, also will join St. Louis City. Ryley is a sophomore at Fort Zumwalt South.
“I’ll definitely miss (high school), but you’ve always got to move on to bigger and better things,” Karson Gibbs said. “What I’ll remember about all this is how much fun it was to go out there and play high school. For the majority of my high school seasons, I was with the same guys. Being able to create that bond over these four years was the most special part. Being able to go back to back and win three out of four state championships was a great way to finish off my high school career.”
2021 All-Metro boys soccer first team
F: Stephen Saladin, senior, SLUH
Co-offensive player of the year in Class 4 by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association, United Soccer Coaches All-American and first-team all-Metro Catholic Conference honoree after racking up 29 goals and 16 assists. Powered Junior Billikens to 23-2-1 record, with their only losses coming to Chaminade and John Burroughs. Had two hat tricks, including one against Class 3 state champion Fort Zumwalt South, and six two-goal games. Had at least one goal in 19 of 26 games.
F: Nathan Grewe, senior, St. Dominic
First-team all-state in Class 4 by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and an all-Archdiocesan Athletics Association Division I selection. Led the talented Crusaders to a 16-6-2 record with 20 goals, including seven in the last seven games. Played four years on the varsity level and amassed 47 goals.
F: Nolan Schulte, junior, Whitfield
Powered the Warriors to the Class 2 state championship with 25 goals, including 12 during the postseason as Whitfield (19-5) outscored its foes 27-4. Scored three goals in the state-championship game, a 4-2 decision over Perryville at Soccer Park. Finished with 57 career goals. First-team all-state in Class 2 by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association.
M: Luca Bartoni, senior, CBC
The versatile Bartoni could play anywhere on the field, but his solid frame, leadership capabilities and determination made him a staple in the Cadets’ midfield. First-team all-state performer in Class 4 by Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and first-team all-MCC pick. Finished with six goals and five assists for 18-6-1 Cadets.
M: Ryan Harvatin, senior, Fort Zumwalt South
A United Soccer Coaches All-American selection. Harvatin was the Bulldogs’ glue in the middle of the pitch, finishing with 20 goals and 17 assists. Class 3 player of the year in Missouri, according to the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association, and co-player of the year in the GAC Central. Scored a goal in state semifinal against Van Horn, then had another in title match against Ladue as Zumwalt South (25-3) won its second successive state title and third in four years.
M: Jake Ellis, senior, Triad
Led Knights to 25-1-1 record and second place in Class 2A state tournament. Illinois Soccer Coaches Association all-state selection had 25 goals and 11 assists. Lethal on head balls, four-year varsity player finished with 52 goals and 26 assists in his career. Triad was 79-13-9 in Ellis’ four seasons on the varsity level, including 37-3 in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
M: Jake Pollock, junior, Althoff
Pollock dominated the middle of the field, gathering 21 goals and 19 assists as the Crusaders finished 24-5-2 and placed second in the Class 1A state tournament. Illinois Soccer Coaches Association all-state player had a hat trick in Althoff’s 4-1 victory over Bloomington Central Catholic in the state semifinals, then scored its only goal in the title-game loss to Wheaton Academy. Had a goal or an assist in 20 games.
D: Alex Peters, senior, CBC
Widely acknowledged as the most dominant defender in the area, Peters anchored a Cadets’ back line that permitted 24 goals and recorded 12 shutouts. Earned defensive player of the year in Class 4 from Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and was an all-Metro Catholic Conference first-team selection.
D: Jack Olwig, senior, Chaminade
Another lights-out defender and first-team pick in Class 4 by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association, Olwig sparked the Red Devils to a 17-5-3 record. Chaminade allowed 15 goals and recorded 15 shutouts with the all-Metro Catholic Conference first-team player holding down the back line.
D: Jack Jellinek, senior, Fort Zumwalt South
Class 3 defensive player of the year for the second consecutive season as selected by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association. Also earned first-team All-Metro recognition as a junior. Jellinek starred on a back line that produced 11 shutouts and yielded 24 goals as the Bulldogs repeated their Class 3 state championship.
G: David DuPont, senior, Triad
Athletic goalkeeper surrendered just two goals and recorded a 0.15 goals against average, along with 10 solo shutouts, as the Knights finished 25-1-1 and as the Illinois Class 2A state tournament runner-up.
2021 All-Metro boys soccer second team
F: Nico Cataranicchia, senior, Mehlville
Was the force behind the Panthers’ potent offense with 20 goals and 16 assists. Mehlville finished 18-3-1 and also proved stubborn defensively. Was recognized as a first team Class 3 pick by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and was honored as the offensive player of the year in the Suburban Conference Red Pool, won by Mehlville.
F: Adam Reiniger, sophomore, Collinsville
The Kahoks were a force and Reiniger was one of the key reasons for that as he chimed in with 18 goals and seven assists to earn recognition as an Illinois Soccer Coaches Association all-state pick. Helped Collinsville win the Southwestern Conference championship and reach the super-sectional round. Named first-team all-conference.
F: Grayson Francis, senior, Ladue
Francis was all over the pitch as he frustrated opponents with his speed and finishing ability. His 12 goals and 10 assists helped the balanced Rams finish 23-7-1 and runner-up to Fort Zumwalt South in the Class 3 state tournament. Named first-team all-state by Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association.
F: Nick Taylor, senior, Francis Howell
The Vikings reeled off 18 victories this season and it was the work of Taylor that helped make it possible. The first-team all-state selection by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association had 22 goals and 10 assists, including three hat tricks. He was a first-team all-GAC South pick.
M: Carter Van Buskirk, senior, Marquette
The Mustangs (16-5-1) caught fire down the stretch and Van Buskirk was in the middle of the damage as he bounced free for 10 goals and 12 assists to earn a spot on the Missouri High School Soccer Association’s Class 4 all-state first team. Van Buskirk was named the Suburban Conference Yellow Pool’s Most Valuable Player.
M: Bobby Pauly, junior, Orchard Farm
Coaches sang the praises of the talented Pauly, who was dangerous all over the field and finished with 16 goals and 23 assists for the 19-4 Eagles, who won the GAC North. Pauly was the Class 2 player of the year in voting by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and was the GAC North player of the year.
M: Grant Locker, sophomore, SLUH
Locker emerged as a fine complementary player in the Junior Billikens’ attack, registering 19 goals and 11 assists to rank second on the team in points. Had a point in 20 of SLUH’s 26 games and the best could be yet to come. First-team Class 4 all-state pick by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and made the all-Metro Catholic Conference’s first team.
M: Ryley Gibbs, sophomore, Fort Zumwalt South
Another super sophomore whose game is still evolving for the powerful Bulldogs. Despite being plagued by injuries, Gibbs had 12 goals and 17 assists and was a first-team pick in Class 3 by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association. All-GAC Central first-team pick. Has 31 goals and 41 assists in his first two seasons — and two state championships.
D: Bobby Hardester, senior, Ladue
Hardester was the defensive stopper for the Class 3 runner-up Rams, earning a spot on Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association first team while also being named to the all-Suburban Conference Yellow Pool first team.
D: Tony Yan, senior, Summit
Yan’s prowess as a center back helped Summit advance to the Class 3 state quarterfinals. Yan was the Suburban Conference Yellow Pool defensive player of the year and also had two goals and three assists for the 14-11 Falcons.
G: Luke Dillon, senior, Fort Zumwalt South
Dillon closed a sparkling career by posting nine shutouts, a 0.88 goals-against average and 107 saves. He set a school record with 44 career shutouts. He was a Class 3 first-team pick by the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association and was the first-team goalkeeper in the GAC Central.
2021 All-Metro boys soccer third team
F: Payton Mathews, senior, Westminster
Led the Wildcats with 14 goals and 16 assists to earn co-offensive player of the year by the Missouri Soccer Coaches Association in Class 2. Westminster reached district title game before losing to eventual state champion Whitfield.
F: Jimmy Milgie, senior, Whitfield
Milgie battled injuries and didn’t score his first goal of the season until Oct 1. He finished with 14 goals and 13 assists and had two assists in the Warriors’ 4-2 triumph over Perryville in the Class 2 state championship match.
F: Kaden Karr, senior, Lafayette
Had 16 goals, including six game-winners, along with 10 assists to earn first-team all-state recognition in Class 4 by the Missouri Soccer Coaches Association. Scored at least one point in 15 of Lafayette’s 27 games.
F: Caleb Slago, senior, Mascoutah
Frontrunner with high work rate put extreme pressure on opponents, finishing with 18 goals and 13 assists to make Illinois Soccer Coaches Association all-state team. Indians finished 17-5-1 and were 16-0 in games when Slago had a goal or an assist.
M: Sam Magueja, sophomore, Lutheran St. Charles
Magueja had a team-high 21 goals to lead the Cougars to the Class 1 state championship. Had two goals in state final against St. Pius X. Co-player of the year in Class 1 by Missouri Soccer Coaches with teammate Cuinn Lurtz. Also played 747 minutes as goalkeeper.
M: Peter Farley, senior, John Burroughs
Farley had 11 goals and a team-best 14 assists as the Bombers finished third in the Class 4 state tournament. Farley had the game-winning assist as John Burroughs shocked St. Louis University High 1-0 in a district final. He also converted a key goal in the Bombers’ 2-0 win over Liberty in the state quarterfinals. Made Class 4 all-state first team.
M: Anis Smajlovic, senior, Mehlville
First-year varsity player was the leader of the Panthers’ midfield. Had 18 goals and 12 assists as Mehlville won the Suburban Conference Red Pool and reached the Class 3 state quarterfinals. First-team all-state in Class 3 by Missouri Soccer Coaches.
D: Cuinn Lurtz, senior, Lutheran St. Charles
The muscular center back let very little get around him and also was a key contributor on restarts. Finished with 13 goals and team-leading 12 assists. Scored on free kick as Cougars blanked St. Pius X for Class 1 state title. Co-player of the year with teammate Sam Magueya in Class 1.
D: Justin Roschke, senior, De Smet
Anchored the Spartans’ back line and helped them finish 12-9-1 after a 2-5-1 start to the season. Second-team all-state selection in Class 3.
D: Roger Weber, senior, Triad
Perhaps the best defender among Metro East teams. Center back made Illinois Soccer Coaches Association all-state team as Knights placed second in Class 2A state tournament. Triad allowed only 11 goals during a one-loss season. Weber also had 14 goals and five assists.
G: Tyler Tieman, senior, Althoff
A force in the net with quickness to both sides, aggressiveness and a big foot that set up Althoff’s attack. Had 17 shutouts, including 15 solos, a 0.73 goals-against average and 158 saves during an Illinois Class 1A state runner-up campaign.
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