COLUMBIA — Saturday’s sectional victory over Camdenton marked the first time that the Hickman boys soccer team has made it to the quarterfinals in the state tournament since the final-four run of 1998.
A lot of the momentum for the Kewpies’ first quarterfinals appearance of the decade comes from different ends of the field. Senior midfielder George Plakorus and junior goalkeeper Chuck Wilson are both on hot streaks.
Hickman (13-8-2) vs. Kickapoo (18-7)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
Winner advances to next Friday's semifinals
Plakorus’ season didn’t look so bright at the start, and he had become frustrated. Halfway through the midfielder’s senior season he still hadn’t found the back of the net. He was a scorer. Putting the ball in the back of the net was his thing. He couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. He had his chances, but nothing was going his way. How long was this drought going to last?
“It was so tough getting all those chances and not being able to finish,” Plakorus said. “It puts you down and you get frustrated with yourself. I was thinking, ‘Am I even going to get one at all?’ I knew I needed to score, but I just wasn’t getting the luck I needed.”
Plakorus broke his drought in a big way. He got his first goal of the season on senior night, the team’s last home game of the regular season, and carried the momentum through the first part of the playoffs. He has scored a goal in each playoff game, including game-winners against hated-rival and the district’s top-seed Rock Bridge and Camdenton in the sectional game. His scoring streak is at five games.
“George is an attacking player and he had his opportunities,” Hickman coach Adam Taylor said. “But it was towards the end of the season that he gained confidence.”
When Plakorus looks back on the middle of the season, he shrugs now. Better late than never.
“I’m glad it is happening now, rather than in the beginning of the season where I guess it didn’t really matter as much,” he said.
While Plakorus was getting back to scoring like he used to, Wilson was
trying to do something he was never comfortable with. Wilson always saw the game, but just had a tough time communicating it back to his teammates, until some work with Taylor.
Taylor calls it “vocal leadership.” Wilson has been a general on the field during the playoffs, letting his defense know where he wants them, in an effort to free up the offense.
“I’ve been trying to talk to him (Wilson) about that all season, and he is finally starting to do it,” Taylor said. “Whenever he is talking to his back line or some of the other guys, he is focused on the game at hand, instead of just watching the game.”
It was something that Wilson had to work on for a while, never quite getting the hang of it until the end of the season.
“Before, I wouldn’t really talk that much or help my back as much as I could,” Wilson said. “Now I’m directing them where to go and talking to them.”
And Wilson is now riding a hot streak too. Wilson shut out each of the three teams he faced in the district tournament, including Rock Bridge and Jefferson City, which both beat the Kewpies earlier in the season. He didn’t let the first ball pass him until the second half of the Kewpies’ victory over Camdenton in the sectional game, another team that defeated the Kewpies during the regular season.
Wilson said he sees a change for the better in the way he plays when the team is communicating well, but doesn’t think he is doing more than anybody else on the team. He credits his defense and the intensity level that the entire team is playing at for his success.
“Our defense has just been really great and playing well together,” Wilson said. “They’re doing amazing, I think I’ve only made three saves this entire playoffs.”
Senior captain and sweeper Logan Forsythe won’t let Wilson get away with deflecting all of the attention. Forsythe said the defense has been building all season, and tried some different formations, but the increased communication between he and Wilson has strengthened the backline.
“That extra talk at my back helps me direct everybody else in the back,” Forsythe said. “He’s on that backline, and there is nothing else behind that can go unnoticed. So when he talks it’s a real help.”
Plakorus also said that the main reason he is finding most of his scoring opportunities is the improved defensive play. He said that the increased communication has opened up lanes and given him the windows he needs up front.
“Solid defense leads to a good offense,” Plakorus said. “The best offense is a good defense, and having Chuck back there helps us a lot because we know we have him back there. We don’t have to worry as much.”
Taylor said he knows that Plakorus and Wilson have been vital to the team’s success, but he said the entire team has grown together to build confidence. Without the team meshing like it has, he doesn’t think the Kewpies would still be alive in tournament play.
“Some kids shine when they get this opportunity,” Taylor said. “It’s building our confidence. Those guys have gotten a lot of confidence because their teammates have stepped up, and gotten them the ball. It was all because his teammates around him were playing so much better.
The Kewpies (13-8-2) will look for revenge against another team that beat them during the regular season when they take on Kickapoo (18-7) in the their quarterfinal game at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Waynesville. Kickapoo beat Hickman 2-1 on Oct. 16. Taylor is looking for a good showing from his team.
“I keep telling them that we’ve put ourselves in a position to succeed,” Taylor said. “Now all we have to do is go out and execute. We’re so close, but we’re so far away, and that’s why we keep working so hard.”