COLUMBIA — After taking the reigns of the Rock Bridge High School boys soccer team in April, rookie coach Alex Nichols has the Bruins right where they were last year, holding the Class 3 District 9 trophy.
It only took him one year to become a district champion. He was named head coach after former coach Kyle Austin left the program.
Rock Bridge (19-7-1) defeated Blue Springs South High School 3-1 on Wednesday to clinch the district championship.
Nichols doesn’t like to put the spotlight on himself but focuses on his players’ successes instead.
“Everything is about us and not him,” senior striker Ryan Stanowski said. “I love the guy, he will do anything for us.”
Nichols said that the coaching staff is there to help but it all comes down to the players. He said that he feels satisfaction when he sees his players progress, knowing that he had an impact on their life.
“It’s a team game and it’s their team and their memories.” Nichols said. “We’re just watching them do their thing.”
Nichols also teaches history and other social studies classes at Rock Bridge. He said his life is split into three parts: teaching, soccer, and some time for family and friends.
“He’s a really good teacher,” said Lauren Smith, the team’s manager. “He’s very loud and energetic and he makes everything fun.”
Assistant coach Brandon Butcher said Nichols lives the soccer lifestyle.
“There are very few that care about their team or their players as much as he does,” Butcher said. “It shows by how much time he puts in.”
“You have to love soccer to coach soccer,” Nichols said.
Butcher said that Rock Bridge had their toughest schedule ever this season, and it was Nichols who sought out the high quality opponents. The Bruins participated in both the Great Midwest Classic in Indianapolis and the Gateway Classic in St. Louis, and they faced nationally ranked teams from across the country.
Nichols’ demeanor on the sidelines during games is a great example of how much he wants his guys to succeed.
During games, Nichols paces up and down the bench with a stern face as he gives his team instructions. Occasionally, he will get into a heated exchange with the officials if he feels that his team has been slighted.
“It gets you going seeing someone on the sideline wanting to win that bad and you want to win for them,” Stanowski said.
Senior defender Nick White said he appreciates the way Nichols handles himself in comparison to some of his past coaches.
“You can’t tell if they care if they don’t react,” White said.
Rock Bridge’s head athletic trainer, Greg Nagel, watches all of the home games from behind the Bruins’ bench. He said that Nichols demands physicality and intensity from all of his guys.
“They need to bring it everyday or it will be somebody else in their spot,” Nagel said.
But Nagel also said that Nichols would cut off his arm for one of his players.
The Bruins have had the luck of a solid roster this season. Goalkeeper Greg Kelly was named national player of the week in September and freshman Tarnue Tyler has led the team for goals scored.
But Nichols focuses on the team as a whole.
“Nobody is bigger than the team,” Stanowski said. “(Nichols) doesn’t care who gets the glory as long as we play well and get the win.”