COLUMBIA — After being handed the plaque for the Class 3, District 9 Boys Soccer Championship on Thursday night, the Kewpies hoisted their coach Adam Taylor on their shoulders and into the air as they yelled and screamed in celebration of their 2-0 victory over second-seeded Jefferson City.
The last time Hickman won a district title was in 2001. Back then, Taylor was still a student at Hickman and the starting forward for the soccer team. Taylor said the feeling was completely different on Thursday.
“Wow, I never ever thought I would be at this point,” Taylor said. “This feeling almost trumps it. This is a great feeling doing it for 18 other people. It's just different when you can motivate them and go out and beat two district rivals in three nights. I’m kind of at a loss for words.”
Taylor said he almost felt like a parent watching his players.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, whenever you are able to watch other kids succeed,” Taylor said. That’s what I do it for, the kids. And whenever you can watch them succeed and see them play at a high level, it’s amazing.”
Before the game, Taylor told his players what it was like to win a district title.
“Yeah, he brought that up the other day,” senior forward George Plakorus said. “He wanted us to take his record from him and prove that we could do it. He was pushing us a lot because he wanted us to do just as good as he did when he was here. His goal from the beginning was for us to win districts, and now we have.”
After losing to Rock Bridge 2-1 and Jefferson City 1-0 during the regular season, the fourth-seeded Kewpies needed to make some changes in order to beat both teams in the postseason.
“Instead of dribbling all the time, we settled down and really came into our own,” junior forward Colin Janicek said. “The players got along so much better after the midpoint of the season. It took a lot to get going, but once we got our passes going and started finishing, we put it in the back of the net.”
“It’s good revenge obviously, Plakorus said. “We had our chances against Rock Bridge and Jeff City and we just couldn’t finish before. That’s what we’ve been working on the past two to three weeks and it all came together when it needed to.”
In addition to the improvements to the offense, the defense has held up strong, notching three straight shutouts in the tournament. Taylor said he noticed the progression of the defense over the second half of the season.
“The defensive line played outstanding this evening,” Taylor said. “They were like a rock back there … When I started coaching, I was confident in our attack, but I was sorta spotty on our defense at times. Now, the defense has raised their level so much, that I can’t say either side of the ball has an advantage anymore.”
To further fuel his team’s fire, Taylor brought up last year’s district tournament to the team.
“I used the media release from last year that said ‘Kewpies lose to Jefferson City,’” Taylor said. “I showed them the actual article last night and I said to them, ‘Do you want to be this team, or do you want to be the team that makes their own headline?’ I think they really responded from that.”
The game went scoreless throughout the first half and much of the second half, but Hickman broke through with a goal with 13 minutes left in the game.
Plakorus, who originally thought the ball was out, cut back and played the ball right across the middle to a streaking Janicek to put the Kewpies up 1-0.
“I thought Kirt (Harris) was going to get a touch on it, but it went through, and I was like ‘That’s mine’ and just put it in,” Janicek said. “It was great.”
Taylor said he was was relieved to see the Kewpies strike first.
“I preached that to them at practice. We’ve got to score first,” Taylor said. I was hoping it would come in the first half. I asked for them to be ahead at half so we could move on from there, but I guess that’ll work. A goal is a goal, and I’m glad we got it first.”
With four minutes remaining, Plakorus fought off leg cramps, outran the Jefferson City defenders, and slipped the ball past the Jays’ goalie to put the Kewpies up 2-0.
The Kewpies advance to a sectional game on Tuesday in Jefferson City. They will face the winner of Thursday's late District 10 title game between Camdenton and Rolla.
“At this point, you just gotta stay mentally tough, and we are actually getting more mentally sharp by the day it seems like,” Taylor said.