COLUMBIA — It was not from the winning side that a sense of contentment emerged in Thursday evening's Class 3 District 9 championship soccer match between Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools.
"I'm really, really proud of the way we fought," Hickman boys soccer coach Adam Taylor said after his team's 3-0 loss to Rock Bridge.
"I'm proud of the guys. (It was a) good season, and I thought we progressed from the beginning to the end."
On the other side of the field, Bruins coach Alex Nichols spoke disappointingly to his huddled players about all of the shots they missed and all of the corner kicks that led to misfired headers.
"Unacceptable," he told his team.
At the end of the first half, Rock Bridge (18-4-1) had already maintained possession of the ball for a vast majority of the 40 minutes, and Hickman hadn't logged a single shot on net.
And yet the Bruins only led 1-0 at the break. They scattered at least 10 shots on net, but Senior Jacob Kovarik's was the only one that found the back of the net.
"Unsatisfactory," Kovarik said of the first half. "We thought we were the better team, and you can beat somebody on the field, but you've got to beat somebody on the scoreboard. I mean, that's the game of soccer."
Sophomore Tarnue Tyler extended Rock Bridge's lead with a go-ahead shot in the 58th minute and Connor Blitz scored on a free kick seconds later to bury the Kewpies (7-14-1).
By the end of the match, the Bruins had unofficially totaled 19 shots on net compared to two by Hickman.
"We didn't play the best we could," Tyler said. "That should have easily been a 7-0 game, and we didn't finish like we were supposed to."
Finishing is something the Bruins will have to improve on if they want to reach their ultimate goal of becoming state champions.
"It's who finishes," he said. "Especially the last two years at state, we could've won state, but it's a matter of us having a mistake and letting the other team score, and we haven't finished our opportunities."
Throughout the season, the Bruins haven't forgotten about those three third place finishes. Each year they've taken third place and each year the taste has returned more bitter than the last.
"The past few years have been pretty rough. It's one of the worst feeling ever to have your season end in the state semifinals," Kovarik said. "This year, I think we have the focus, we have the talent, we have the players, the coaches, and we can get it done."
Looking ahead to their sectional round game against Jefferson City, the narrative of unsatisfactory success continues.
"This team's a great team, but they've got so much room to improve (to be) an incredible team," Nichols said. "If you want to be a great team and be great individual athletes, that's what you have to understand. Even when you're great, you can still get better."
After the win, players held up the program's fourth-straight district championship plaque. They all surrounded it and posed for photos. They smiled and Nichols was behind them, smiling too.
"I thought the last three teams that went (to state) could've won it, and I think this team will win it," Nichols said. "But, it's a lot of work to get there."
They put the plaque to the side. They went into a huddle, well aware that they were thinking of a much more desirable trophy.
Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum: sports@ColumbiaMissourian.com, 882-5729.