COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge boys soccer coach Alex Nichols paced up and down the sideline Friday night, encouraging his players to be more aggressive.
To get in the opponents' face and be physical.
"You have to go after the ball! You want the ball! Get it!" said Nichols, shouting to one of his players.
The Rock Bridge boys soccer team played in a jamboree Friday night against Hickman and Timberland high schools, resulting in a 1-0 victory and 0-0 tie, respectively.
"These guys know they need to go hard 90 minutes," varsity assistant coach Brandon Butcher said about his team after the game. "Physicality is a part of our game, but hard work (is) a given. Our team in the past has been known for our possession, playing fast, aggressive, possessing kind of game."
Coming off a 22-8-1 season, Rock Bridge is ranked 28th nationally in the preseason polls from StudentSports.com, and has appeared in the MSHSAA Class 3 Boys Soccer Championships the past three seasons, finishing third each time. But despite past success, coach Butcher says the team still has much to learn.
"This is an exhibition game, and we're getting a lot of kinks worked out and trying a lot of new things," said Butcher. "New players are playing together, new formations that we're trying to work on. We have a long way to go and a lot of things to work on."
Even though the team finished without a loss for the night, head coach Nichols was still disappointed with the team's performance. He chose not to speak after the game due to his frustration.
Still, the team's expectations remain high with many college prospects and a strong senior class of eight returning starters. The team also has what Butcher calls "one of the best goalkeepers in the nation" in junior Greg Kelly. Kelly was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America player of the week last season after racking up five saves in one game.
"We had some bright spots tonight," Butcher said. "We saw a couple good series of possessions, counters, playing with speed, playing with quickness, and we'll build from there."
Rock Bridge starts its regular season at 5 p.m. Aug. 30 at Lee's Summit North and has its first home game against Rockhurst at noon the following Saturday.