Boys soccer bounces back from disappointing loss last season

Keep+your+head+up%3A+Junior+Salim+Gumati+springs+up+to+win+a+header+against+Lees+Summit+West+to+try+and+score+in+the+last+several+minutes+to+play.+Photo+by+Patrick+Smith

Keep your head up: Junior Salim Gumati springs up to win a header against Lee’s Summit West to try and score in the last several minutes to play. Photo by Patrick Smith

Daphne Yu

Keep your head up: Junior Salim Gumati springs up to win a header against Lee’s Summit West to try and score in the last several minutes to play. Photo by Patrick Smith
Redemption.
The journey toward a state title for the Bruin boys soccer team last year ended when the semi-final game against Oakville came down to five penalty kicks; the RBHS boys finished one goal short.
Overcoming the semi-final match, that has stopped them two years in a row,  is one of the final goals for the boys soccer team and after that, winning state.
“My biggest motivation is getting to state the past two years and not making it to the finals,” said senior Ryan Stanowski, one of the team’s three captains. “We want that state title this year.”
The devastating semi-final match from last year still haunts Stanowski, whose injury earlier in the game rendered him physically unable to play. Instead, he watched from the sidelines while his teammates faltered on the field.
“It was just a heartbreak all the way around, having to sit out and watch the [penalty kicks], knowing that I could have made a difference potentially,” Stanowski said. “Nothing went right for us that night … It was the hardest loss I’ve ever been a part of.”
This year, the team embraces 10 new players into the varsity family, seven with no previous experience. Although some boys are new to the varsity level of competition, all the boys have become more than a team and share the same dream.
“Ultimately, we have the same goal as last year: to win state,” junior Jacob Kovarik said. “We’ve suffered the same heartbreak two years in a row and it’s not going to happen again. Everybody can see it in the way we play every game – with our hearts.”
After 11 seniors graduated last year, the boys received another blow when head coach Kyle Austin left Columbia Public Schools to be with his family in St. Louis. Austin coached the boys’ team for six years, and led both the 2010 and 2011 teams to state.
Despite Austin’s leaving, the boys are still in capable hands; Alex Nichols, head coach this year, has the ability to take the boys to their third consecutive final four, Stanowski said. Nichols’ experience as assistant coach for the past three years following and assisting the previous two state teams also makes the switch smoother.
“It’s definitely made the transition easier because the guys know what we’re all about,” Nichols said. “I think when you have a relationship with people … that’s when you can really get stuff done. Because even if you’re coming down hard on people, even though your approach is different than some people would like, so long as they know you just want what’s best for them.”
Nichols’ goal is the same as his team: winning state. To prevent a scenario mirroring last year’s semi-final game where the Bruin boys lost to “a team that was simply not better than us,” Nichols said, from happening again, this year’s team is focusing on strengthening their defense and upping their goal-scoring ability to avoid overtimes or even penalty kicks. Although the new defensive system is hard to run, Nichols said, it will help the team be successful once they figure it out.
Nichols “is a big believer in ‘everyone plays offense and everyone plays defense.’ There’s the saying that the best offense comes from the defense and we believe that too,” Stanowski said. “As soon as we get the ball, we look to counter quickly, we look to get our backs up the field even while playing the three-back system, we look to get them up the field which creates more of a chance for scoring.”
The team this year has more creativity and technical ability than last year and their biggest weakness – chemistry on the field – is one that can be overcome with time, Stanowski said. In their second game of the season, the boys beat Rockhurst, traditionally a , to prove they already have the talent and ability to play and beat top teams.
“A lot of people kept saying [Rockhurst] was the state favorite,” Stanowski said. And already, “We did something that the past two teams haven’t done which is beat Rockhurst. We’re still looking at that state title no matter what people say. I mean, you still have to take it game by game, but we know what we’re capable of, Nichols knows what we’re capable of, and he’s going to get the best out of us.”