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Rock Bridge boys' soccer takes lessons during domination of Hickman

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 11:10 p.m. CDT
The Rock Bridge Bruins played the Hickman Kewpies in a home game Tuesday.

COLUMBIA—One minute and 53 seconds.

That's how long it was into Tuesday night's game against visiting Hickman before Rock Bridge boys soccer coach Alex Nichols began his way of teaching. 

He hollered something out to the field as the Bruins (9-2) took control of the ball and later took control of the game.

They breezed past the Kewpies (2-6) in the 5-0 win. Rock Bridge senior Jacob Kovarik led the team with three goals and was quick to praise his assists from seniors Salim Gumati and Cooper Smith and from sophomore Cooper Kaufman.

"I was just in the right place at the right time," Kovarik said.

The Bruins did it with the help of his hat trick.

They did it with a defense that was as relentless as their offense and a shutdown performance from senior goalie Greg Kelly.

They did it with Nichols teaching throughout.

"The main thing as a coach that I'm excited and proud of my guys about is when I see them progress from areas where they needed to progress from last game. And they did," said Nichols, whose team bounced back following Monday's 1-0 loss to St. Louis power Chaminade. "There's so many different aspects of our game where we got better. There were still a lot of aspects of the game tonight that need to get addressed, and they need to figure them out, and we need to teach them those things."

Early on in the game, he subbed players out and took them two at a time to the end of the bench. He spoke to them intensely, with a snarl and a stare. He spoke to players singularly sitting down in the bench. He had them stand up so he could demonstrate footwork and technique with his own body. The look on his face never left.

Nearly midway through the first half, Nichols pulled Kelly from the goal.

"He is the best goalie in the state," Nichols said.

And even still, Nichols saw a teaching opportunity by putting Kelly at the end of the bench to remind him of his many responsibilities. 

"Leadership is one of those, making sure he is the captain in the back and telling guys what they need to get done is part of it," Nichols said. "We had a quick conversation about it. My expectations for him are through the roof. Unfortunately, he's got to deal with me, and he's got to meet those expectations."

Rock Bridge is coming off three consecutive third-place finishes at state, and Nichols is working to move the team beyond third place.

Kelly says Nichols' tough attitude has "rubbed off" on him.

Kelly has a sharp jaw and a sharp gaze, and he's been through the same state finish alongside fellow seniors Kovarik, Gumati and Smith since they were sophomores.

On Thursday, they again face Chaminade, a team that has won their past three meetings.

There were things to learn from those previous games against Chaminade, from Tuesday's game, and from every game.

"We have to come out every half, not just one half. We have to come out with high intensity, 100 percent," Kelly said. "We can't let up a goal."

Supervising editor is Erik Hall: sports@ColumbiaMissourian.com, 882-5729.


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