COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge boys soccer team had some high expectations for this season. After a strong finish last season that ended with a loss in the district semifinals, the 13 returning seniors and their coach wanted to do well this year. However, because of what coach Kyle Austin calls some unlucky breaks, the Bruins are off to a 1-4 start.
“We’re a little disappointed, but I really feel the record doesn’t reflect our play on the field,” he said. “We’ve played a lot better than that and have gotten unlucky a few times. I’m pretty happy with how we’ve played.”
The Bruins lost in the last 40 seconds of one game, in overtime during another and by only one goal to the defending Kansas state champions. According to senior captain and defender Dolan Patterson, scoring has been an issue.
“We can possess the ball and stay with every team and keep it inside their box and their half of the field, but we just cannot finish and that’s the main problem right now and no one has stepped up to take charge and score goals,” Patterson said.
Austin said the start of this season has been “eerily similar” to last season when the team began 1-7-1 before winning nine of their last 11 games. Austin said he hopes his team can turn things around this week. Despite having a long, 25-game season with a lot of traveling, the team has tried to intensify practices in order to improve.
“At the beginning we were giving them light practices with not as much conditioning or daunting tasks, and I saw that kind of morphing into their mentality on the field,” Austin said. “We decided as a team that it would be in their best interest to have tough, physical practices. Now we’ve done a 180 in hopes that it breeds success in games.”
Austin also said he thinks the team’s experience playing together will give it an advantage. Although many of the 13 seniors on the team have played together throughout high school, senior captain Robbie Baird said eight of his teammates also play for the Columbia Pride competitive soccer club team together.
“Soccer is all about chemistry and we’ve been playing together for so long that the chemistry stays with us,” Baird said. “You can definitely tell the players who do play (club soccer) together. We just know where they’re going to be on the field.”
In addition to playing together, the team also spends time together off the field.
“We’re all pretty close friends, and most of us hang out with each other off the field,” Baird said. “We'll go to friends’ houses to play video games or go to a movie.”
The team also has dinners together every two weeks in order to relax together.
“We just had a dinner (Sunday night) and we usually go to one of the players’ houses on varsity with the parents and the players and people prepare food and we sit and relax and have a good time,” Patterson said. “We maybe end up watching some NFL games and always end up talking about soccer. It’s a pretty relaxed situation.”
Austin said that while the team itself is close, he also has a strong relationship with the players.
“It’s my fourth year at Rock Bridge and this is the first team I came in with,” Austin said. “My first year was when they were freshmen, so I have a lot of experience working with them, and I think we have a good solid relationship with a lot of trust.”
Since Austin is also sophomore English teacher at Rock Bridge, he has had some of his players in class and is able to see them each day at school.
“I’ve known him for four years and talked to him a lot, and I can really express my feelings to him about the team,” Baird said. “He’ll listen to what we want to do on the field, and we all have a pretty good idea of his expectations too. It’s helpful (seeing him at school) because you can talk to him about other problems going on with the team or school like homework.”
The Bruins are playing in St. Louis’ annual Catholic Youth Conference Tournament with games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with the first- and second-place games on Saturday. They have to travel two hours to and from games each night, but Patterson said the team doesn't let that affect it.
“Really the problem with traveling so far is, with traffic, sometimes you don’t get there until 15 or 20 minutes before a game, but you stay up late doing homework anyway so its really no different," he said.
Austin said the Bruins played in the CYC Tournament for the past five or six years and that the tournament is tough and one of the best in the state.
“St. Louis and Kansas City are two soccer hotbeds, and we like to go and prove ourselves,” Austin said. “It’s a chance to measure up to soccer schools in St. Louis and Kansas City, and they’re not going to drive two hours to get to us when then have 50 or 60 schools to play around them.”
Austin said he is looking toward this tournament to be the “catalyst” and turning point of the season.
“I really believe we can play with anyone on the field,” Austin said. “(The team is) a great group with a great skill set, and we’re looking for this week to be the catapult to a good season.”