Rock Bridge has defended its goal well this season. As a result, the soccer team has something to defend that no team from mid-Missouri has ever had: a national ranking.
The Bruins, though, aren’t letting the recognition go to their heads.
“It doesn’t feel any different,” said senior co-captain Tanner Mills. “It’s the same guys I’ve been playing with for three or four years.”
Coach David Graham doesn’t feel any added pressure to live up to the ranking, which is as high as 20th in a poll by studentsports.com.
“Those rankings really don’t mean anything right now. We’re not going to go through the season undefeated,” Graham said.
“If we lose a game, I won’t be worried. I’ll be mad if we lose to a team we should beat, but I won’t be worried. All I really care about is winning districts.”
So far, Graham hasn’t had much reason to get mad or worried, as Rock Bridge hasn’t lost a game.
It’s hard to lose when the other team doesn’t score. The Bruins are trying to make that their formula for success this season.
After setting a school record for wins last year, the Bruins have gone 6-0-1 largely because of their defense. Prior to Monday’s two-goal outing by Kansas City O’Hara, Rock Bridge had given up just one goal and posted five shutouts.
“I think we have a phenomenal goalkeeper who can bail out mistakes,” Graham said of Mills, who recorded 243 saves last year, the second highest in school history.
The Bruins’ overall 0.79 goals against average set a school record last season. This season the average is 0.43.
“We’ve been playing some great defense lately,” said Mills. “Hopefully, we can keep it up for a long time.”
“The four backs have been amazing,” Graham said.
While a variety of players have filled those spots, the main core has been Ben Patton, Tim Humlicek, Paul Mattli and Josh McNutt.
McNutt made several key plays in the season-opening win against Chaminade. Patton has proved effective on both ends of the field, coupling solid defense with a throw-in that has become a weapon in the Bruin offensive arsenal.
“We can use Ben’s throw-in just like a corner kick when we’re down near the other team’s goal,” said assistant coach Joe Ritter.
All of these backs have gotten into the offensive mix, contributing at least one point. This leaves Mills feeling a bit left out.
“If I could have one thing this season, besides the goalie (stuff), it would be to take a free kick,” said Mills, who constantly lobbies with Graham for a chance to play in the field.
“I don’t think he’s going to ever let me, though,” Mills said.
During the closing minutes of an 8-0 win over Moberly, Mills tried to get Graham’s attention on the sideline, asking if he could move out to an offensive position. Graham’s response to his goalkeeper’s waving: “Hi Tanner!”
This weekend, Rock Bridge will try to defend its championship at the Parkway Tournament in St. Louis. The Bruins have won the tournament two straight years.
Rock Bridge plays Parkway North (1-4) on Friday, Parkway West (1-6) on Saturday morning and Parkway Central (1-6) that afternoon. The Bruins don’t play host Parkway South, which completes the St. Louis contingent in the tournament. Mid-Missouri will also be represented by Hickman, Jefferson City and Smith Cotton.