COLUMBIA — Salim Gumati and Cooper Smith declared Thursday at Rock Bridge High School that their decade of dominating the pitch together is over.
The Rock Bridge seniors signed letters of intent to play soccer for Rockhurst University and Drury University, respectively.
Both schools compete in the Great Lakes Valley Conference (Division II), where Rockhurst and Drury finished the 2013 season No. 4 and No. 5 in the conference standings.
Gumati and Smith, who led the Bruins to their best season in program history and have played together since the age of six, will now be rivals.
While they’ve never played against each other, the boys have always tried to out-do one another.
Drew Hamilton coached the Blitz, the recreational soccer team where the duo first joined forces more than 10 years ago. He said that even as children it was always a competition between the boys.
And while the boys have both succeeded immensely in their soccer careers, they have gone about it in different ways.
Gumati is calm and not extremely outgoing, according to Smith. On the other hand, Smith, is always upbeat and often hyper, Gumati said.
In the time leading up to Thursday’s signing at Rock Bridge High School, these differences in personality were evident.
“He was jumpy and giddy about what was going to happen,” Gumati said. “I said, ‘Cooper, just relax.’”
When the two relaxed and sat down, Rock Bridge coach Alex Nichols did most of the speaking.
Nichols was incredibly candid as he spoke of and joked with his star seniors.
“I didn’t realize somebody sweats so much until I saw how hideous he (Gumati) looks after weightlifting,” Nichols said. “Spotting you (Gumati) was always an absolute nightmare.”
When Nichols finished joking, he praised Gumati’s work ethic, his defining characteristic according to the coach.
Then the coach complimented Smith on his ability to lead the team when something needed fixing.
“I would tell Cooper, ‘figure it out,' and he always came through,” Nichols said.
Smith and Gumati controlled the center of the field for Nichols, working side by side as center midfielders.
Smith used strategy, finesse and footwork to position himself for a college scholarship, while the bigger Gumati relied on physicality and scrappiness, Nichols said.
While Gumati is sure he’ll feel comfortable on the pitch at Rockhurst, it just won’t be the same without his teammate of ten years nearby.
“I can tell when he’s (Smith) there. Whenever we’re on the field, I feel so much more confident,” Gumati said.
“I just hope that we (Rockhurst) end up beating him (Smith) next year.”
Supervising editor is Wade Livingston