Last year’s Sacred Heart soccer team went where no Gremlin had gone before — the Final Four. This year’s Gremlin squad comes into the Final Four as a team that has been there before.
“It’s just good recognition for everyone, for ourselves and for the school.” said senior midfielder Will Prenger.
The bid for a state title last year ended with a 2-1 loss to Canton in the semifinal. The Gremlins took third with a 5-1 win over Crossroads the next day.
“Last year, that was one of the biggest events those kids have ever been to,” said Sacred Heart coach Travis Cooper. “Any time you go to state, there’s a little bit of shock and awe value. We’ve been there once, so it just makes the entire process a little bit easier. You know what to expect.”
But unlike Sacred Heart, the other three teams alive in Class 1 have not been there. The Gremlins’ semifinal opponent, Principia, fell in the district final each of the last two seasons. The teams meeting in Friday’s other semifinal, St. Paul and Belle, each lost quarterfinal games in 2014.
“We’re just staying focused on the goal,” said Gremlins forward Max Martin. “We want to make it to the state championship. We want to get by Principia. We don’t want to play for third again. We want to do it right this year. We don’t want to go there and make mistakes.”
Martin said the big lesson of last year is not to look past anyone. The Gremlins know Principia will be ready for Friday’s semifinal so Sacred Heart will have to be ready for them.
The Gremlins are hoping to put the game on the wet field of Laquey behind them and get back to the possession style, which has worked for them in the past.
“That game was different,” Martin said. “We were just trying to come out with a win. We knew we couldn’t do what we wanted to do and this week will be different.”
Sacred Heart faces Principia in the semifinal, a team out of St. Louis.
“We’ve been able to review some of their stuff and some of the things they do,” Cooper said. “They’re a possession style team so we’re both going to be trying to hold the ball. It will come down to a game of patience at some point in time, who’s the more patient team to be able to hold and find those creases to play in to.”
Though the Gremlins will be facing a team playing just miles from home, they do not feel they are facing a team that comes in with home field advantage.
“It’s state,” Cooper said. “You’re on a good surface so there’s not really that advantage. I’d really like to see a lot of people come out to support us this year. I think we’re going to have quite a few supporters from the school and I hope the community gets behind it. The more fans you have in the crowd, the more it helps pump the players up.”
Principia’s schedule included Class 4 Liberty North, Class 3 Priory, Country Day and Belton and a late September road trip to Kansas City which saw the Panthers lose to St. Pius X and Pembroke Hill before beating Barstow in double overtime.
St. Paul Lutheran (22-1)
St. Paul and Sacred Heart have met before, a 3-1 Saints win at Clover Dell on Oct. 5.
“We under estimated St. Paul,” Cooper said. “We walked into that game pretty confident. We went up 1-0 real early on them and just kind of shut down, they just kind of thought, ‘oh, we’re going to coast through’ and I think everyone of them, it was an eye-opener to them that you can’t just go in and expect to walk out with it.”
The Saints edged Summit Christian 4-3 in the district final to avenge their only loss of the year before dispatching defending Class 1 state champion Barstow 7-0 in the quarterfinal.
Sacred Heart and St. Paul met twice last year with the Gremlins winning both, a 4-2 win at the Barstow Tournament and a 4-3 win in Concordia.
Belle needed penalty kicks to get past Canton in the quarterfinal. The Tigers also had a pair of close district wins over Crocker and Dixon.
Of Belle’s 21 games, 13 have been decided by two or fewer goals and four have gone to overtime or penalty kicks.
Belle played Laquey twice, splitting the season series. Laquey fell to Sacred Heart in the quarterfinal in overtime. Both Belle and Sacred Heart scored wins over Osage and both lost to Southern Boone.
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles