Former THS soccer standouts help college team win nationals
For Dustin Schultz, his 2003 and 2004 collegiate soccer seasons ended with heartbreak.
During his freshman year at Manhattan Christian College, Schultz watched as another team celebrated a national title in the National Christian College Athletics Association Division II.
In 2004, MCC finished third in the nation.
But on Nov. 5, the Crusaders, after eight straight trips to the NCCAA tournament, finally earned a national title.
In those previous seven appearances, the Crusaders finished second three times and third on two occasions.
Schultz, a 2003 Tonganoxie High School graduate, was eager to hold the NCCAA championship banner after the Manhattan defeated Cincinnati Christian, 2-0, in the national championship game in Kissimmee, Fla.
"I was speechless," Schultz said. "I'd been in two national championships. When the game was over with, we always lost, and I wondered what we could have done to win it.
"I didn't know what to think (after the win against Cincinnati Christian). It was great."
Schultz wasn't the only former Tonganoxie High standout celebrating in the Sunshine State.
Kirk Rodell, who was a freshman on this year's MCC championship squad, followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Kyle, who played at THS before competing in several national tournaments at Manhattan Christian College.
Unlike his older brother, Kirk left Kissimmee with a national title.
"Finally, I have something you didn't," Rodell said, recalling what he told his older brother.
Rodell and Schultz never had the opportunity to play for a state title at Tonganoxie. That made the national title even more special for Rodell.
"Going from a program that struggled to a program that is known for winning, it was great," Rodell said.
Manhattan finished the season with a 19-2-2 record.
Both of Manhattan's losses were to National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics teams -- Sterling and Texas Wesleyan.
NAIA is a higher-division association than the NCCAA.
MCC lost to both of those schools by a 1-0 score.
"We played a lot of NAIA schools," Schultz said. "We played some tough teams. Even in practice it was tough every day."
A coach's perspective
MCC coach Rick Wright described winning the national title as "pretty unbelievable."
He said the two Tonganoxie natives on the roster made the national title a possibility.
"We could not have won the national tournament without those boys," Wright said. "Tonganoxie's got two guys on the team that have the will to win."
Schultz played as a defensive stopper for the Crusaders, while Rodell was a left outside defender.
"I believe he's the best stopper in the nation, and I think he'll be an all-American next year," Wright said about Schultz. "He is one of the best players I've ever seen as far as the will to win and competitive spirit."
Schultz was named to the all-tournament team and was an all-region selection. He also was honorable mention all-American.
Schultz said "it felt good" to be named to the all-tournament team, but he wasn't too concerned with individual honors.
"All I was worried about was winning that banner," Schultz said. "It felt good walking up there with it. Even if I hadn't gotten it (the all-tournament honor), it would have felt the same."
Overall, MCC had five players on the all-tournament team.
As for Rodell, the freshman earned several minutes of playing time throughout the season, especially during the tournament.
"He played from wire to wire all the way through the tournament," Wright said. "He never came out, so that was good."
Rodell and Schultz are part of a longstanding pipeline from Tonganoxie to MCC. Along with Kyle Rodell, other THS alumni such as Will Black and Ben Black, Bryce Cooper and Luke Brown also have played for the Crusaders. In addition, former Tonganoxie coach Harold Pittman played for MCC.
Looking for perfection
At the national tournament, Manhattan, which was the No. 1 seed, defeated Hillsdale Free Will Baptist (Okla.), 3-0, before defeating Tocca Falls (Ga.) in the semifinals, 3-1.
Throw in the 2-0 shutout of Cincinnati Christian in the title game, and the Crusaders were one goal away from a perfect shutout in the tournament.
Schultz said Manhattan would have had a shutout against Tocca Falls, but a late penalty kick gave Tocca Falls the goal.
"We definitely went in wanting to make a statement," Schultz said.
The junior, though, would have preferred a third shutout.
"It could have went either way," Schultz said. "I wasn't too happy with it."
Overall, the Crusaders had 11 shutouts on the season.
Tonganoxie fans might remember Kirk Rodell having long sandy-brown hair during basketball and baseball during his senior season at THS earlier this year.
At the national tournament, however, his hair was pitch black.
Rodell dyed his hair before the tournament, participating in a trend that swept through the team while in Florida.
Some players sported black hair, while others shaved parts of their heads to form Mohawks.
"I wanted to do something different and dyed it black for the tournament," Rodell said.
The look, however, was short-lived. After the tournament, Rodell buzzed his hair off, marking the first time in about eight months he didn't have long hair.
"I just wanted to get rid of it because it looked wretched with the black," Rodell said.
Schultz didn't go along with the temporary hairstyle.
"They tried to get me to, but there was no way," Schultz said. "I don't think my dad or my grandparents would have approved of that."
Manhattan Christian became only the fifth school to win the NCCAA soccer tournament since its inception in 1984.
Of those four other schools, three have repeated as national champions.
The Crusaders hope to join that club next year.
Manhattan had just two seniors on this year's championship squad, one of whom played in all three tournament games.
"If we get the majority of the people back, I feel pretty confident we can go in and win again," Schultz said.
The key to this year's success, Schultz said, was the lack of a standout player.
"There wasn't just one guy who was going to carry us all the time," Schultz said. "We hadn't had anything like that for a while, I think."
Wright reiterated that Tonganoxie's former players filled key roles in Manhattan's national title run.
He hopes to have a repeat next season.
"Both of them played excellent for us," Wright said. "We're probably going to make another run for it if they stay. We'll see what happens."