TROY, Ill. — Sometimes the ball would careen in random directions when it struck divots and grooves in the grass on Triad High School's soccer field during Eli Kraabel's first three seasons playing for the Knights.
It was almost fun for the standout forward to try to guess the trajectory.
On Tuesday though, Kraabel said not having to guess was better.
Kraabel scored on a first-minute penalty kick and Triad cruised to a 4-0 victory over Highland in a Mississippi Valley Conference boys soccer game at Triad High School.
"It's great to set the tone for the rest of the season," Kraabel said.
In the opening minute, Kraabel burst through Highland's defense for a long pass on Triad's turf that was installed in the spring of 2020.
Not having to guess where the ball would skip helped as Kraabel made his run, and he in the right place for the pass before being dragged down in the box and rewarded with the penalty kick.
"On turf, you can always judge the ball a little bit better," Kraabel said. "It was easy to read where it goes."
Triad (3-1 overall, 1-0 MVC) extended its winning streak over Highland to seven games. The 2019 Class 3A third-place Knights have won their conference opener in five consecutive seasons.
The fall season was postponed to March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the regular season will be as good as it gets.
"It's sad that we don't get to play for a state series," Triad coach Jim Jackson said. "But we're still playing for a conference championship and it's a good way to start conference play."
Leading the charge was junior forward Sam Beeman, who scored two second-half goals.
After a 15-month hiatus, Beeman pointed out that while he's not in the best shape yet, the coaching staff helped keep the Knights ready for a fast-paced season.
"Our coaches have stayed in touch with us and kept giving us workouts that we can do at home and that helped," Beeman said. "I was a little out of shape coming into this, but I've been getting better."
Sophomore Tobey Suter buried a first-half goal, while junior goalie David DuPont collected his first shutout of the season after posting eight last season.
Highland (1-1, 0-1) took three shots on goal in the second half but couldn't break through the Triad defense.
"I think the speed of the game caught us off guard early," Highland coach Jay Robinson said. "I think we adjusted and started playing better (in the second half)."