St. James soccer wins 5A state title with 3-1 victory over BVSW
Emporia It took until the late stages of the regular season for St. James Academy soccer coach Rick Enna to find just the right starting XI, but he had three dependable players that he knew he could build around in seniors Luke Schaefer, Brady Manning and Jack DuBois.
The three Thunder captains came through on the biggest stage to end their respective high school careers Saturday, as they each scored a goal to lead St. James to a 3-1 win over Blue Valley Southwest in the Class 5A state title match at Emporia High School.
"It was awesome. We couldn't have thought of a better way to end the season," DuBois said. "That's everyone's dream is to score in the state championship, and to have all three captains do it, it's just great."
Manning gave the Thunder a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute when he headed home a cross from freshman Francis Nguyen. It took a moment for Manning to comprehend that he had found the back of the net for the biggest goal of his preps career.
"As soon as I headed it, it felt like it was in the air for an eternity," Manning said. "It bounced once, twice and it went into the goal. I was looking for an offside flag or something, but then I realized that I had just scored in the state championship."
The Thunder (10-8-3) stayed on the attack after Manning broke the scoreless tie, and tacked on another when Schaefer scored five minutes later. Schaefer rifled a shot from the top right corner of the 18-yard box, right past the outstretched arms of BV Southwest goalkeeper Trenton Hailey.
"I've never felt anything like this honestly," Schaefer said. "So much effort went into all of this from going back to last summer. It all flashes before you like, 'This actually happened.'"
While the Thunder surged to a 2-0 lead out of the gates, the Timberwolves did not go quietly. The momentum quickly turned, and BV Southwest sophomore forward Aidan Bates went on to cut the deficit to one in the 26th minute for his third goal of the state tournament.
The Timberwolves (16-4-1) continued to send numbers forward for the rest of the half, but could not find the elusive equalizer. Southwest had a series of golden opportunities in the final 10 minutes of the half, beginning with a 1-v.-1 scoring chance that sophomore Nathan Pendleton flicked over St. James goalie Jake Dunsmore. While Pendleton's shot cleared Dunsmore, it went just wide of the far post.
The chances kept coming for the Timberwolves, though. Southwest had back-to-back corner kicks in the 35th minute. The Thunder back line was able to survive the scare after BV Southwest senior Nigel King sent a shot over the crossbar after the second corner.
"I've said all along that it begins and ends with our defense. Our defense bent, but it didn't break," Enna said. "They were just phenomenal. They gave us the opportunities to create and find the net three times, and the result is one amazing state championship for St. James."
Enna and the Thunder knew they were fortunate to be clinging on to a 2-1 advantage at the break, but it did not take long the lead to be pushed back to two when both teams returned to the pitch for the second half.
For the second straight match, a Thunder defender notched his first varsity goal, as DuBois drilled home a header off a set piece in the 43rd minute. Sophomore defender Zach Flax scored in similar fashion in the Thunder's 2-0 win over Bishop Carroll Friday in the semifinals.
DuBois got the first touch after the Thunder free kick from the left edge of the 18, and Enna said that it just came down to the matter of will from the St. James senior.
"He just wanted it. I think that sums up our season," Enna said. "These boys wanted it. They knew they could get there, and their desire and their faith pushed them through."
DuBois and the Thunder back line helped Dunsmore do the rest to clinch St. James' first state title since 2009, and its first as a member of 5A. Between regional wins over Schlagle and De Soto, a quarterfinal victory against Harmon and the triumphs over Carroll and BV Southwest at state, the St. James only allowed two goals throughout the course of the postseason.
"I think it's just communication," DuBois said of they key to the back line's success. "We were constantly talking. All three of the other people on the back line are all amazing defenders, and I couldn't ask for anyone else that I'd rather play with."
As time continued to tick away in the second half, the reality of winning the state title slowly started to sink in for the Thunder. The closer the clock got to reading all zeros, the more Manning was able to relish in what he and his fellow captains had accomplished.
"I didn't really notice until the ball went out of bounds and there was a long stoppage in the play, and I was like, 'Wow. Me, Luke, Jack ,,,'" Manning said. "I don't think there could have been any more fitting way for this season to end than with our three captains scoring and Jack getting to score his first varsity goal."
While Manning will be continuing his soccer career at Northern Illinois next fall, he challenged the returning Thunder players to make it a tradition of winning state titles for St. James soccer.
"My dad was saying leading up to this week, 'Get the first one so you can get the second, and tell that to all of the junior kids,'" Manning said. "I didn't tell them, but we got the first, and now it's their job to come back and win it next year — back-to-back."
Another win, another birthday celebration
All three of the Thunder's wins over the past week have just happened to fall on birthdays of someone special to the St. James soccer program. Jake Dunsmore's mother, Karen Dunsmore, celebrated her birthday on Tuesday as the Thunder topped Harmon, and Alessandro DeBrevi's sister and St. James cheerleader, Bella DeBrevi, did the same on Friday after St. James' win over Carroll.
It was junior midfielder Luis Alvarado's turn to celebrate his birthday on Saturday, and he said that the state championship was the best present he could have asked for as he hoisted the 5A state title plaque.
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- St. James soccer shuts out Bishop Carroll, 2-0, to reach 5A state title match
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- St. James soccer shuts out De Soto for regional title; Mill Valley loses heartbreaker to BVSW