St. James slips past THS at state
Head coach Brian Kroll applauded his team as the final buzzer rang Tuesday in Tonganoxie after the state quarterfinal match between the Tonganoxie and St. James boys soccer teams.
The Chieftains walked off the pitch for the final time this year, coming out on the losing end of the 2-1 match that ended their season. Kroll was proud of his team, who had just battled what he called the “toughest team that anyone in the state will face all year.”
“I told them that they just gave one of the best teams in the state of Kansas everything that they could handle. … I think they expected to come in and blow us out. I’m not so sure we didn’t expect the same thing, but we gave them a game,” Kroll said. “We gave them a run, and it was awesome.”
St. James dominated possession and the number of shots in the first half. The Thunder’s Steven Enna had several shots saved by Tonganoxie goalkeeper Keaton Truesdell before scoring the first goal of the match with 23 minutes remaining in the first half. Truesdell then corralled a number of Thunder shots until St. James midfielder Matthew Brophy netted the second Thunder goal off a free kick with 3:40 remaining before halftime.
Kroll called Truesdell’s performance great and also credited the performance of the Tonganoxie defense in containing the Thunder offensive attack.
“I would say overall, as a keeper in general and as a player, I think he is fantastic and he has really come into his own,” Kroll said.
Tonganoxie’s defense shut out the Thunder in the second half and gave the offense a chance to get back in the match. After several crosses into the St. James 18-yard box, Tonganoxie answered with 1:45 left on a header by junior Matthew Saathoff, the team’s leading scorer on the season.
“They have been a complete swing from last year’s group where last year, once we got down, we kind of folded a little bit,” Kroll said. “But they really matured and they’ve gotten into the groove that, hey, goals happen, whether they’re ours or theirs. Goals happen, and never quit.”
Saathoff said Tonganoxie didn’t have much intensity throughout the match and already had the idea the team had lost, but the goal gave the team hope.
“I got everyone exciting and pumped up and at that point we started pressuring a lot more and St. James couldn’t get it across half-field,” Saathoff said. “So it just made it a lot harder on them and we pushed it a lot harder then we had the whole game.”
Tonganoxie would send repeated passes deep into Thunder territory, but the St. James defense successfully cleared the ball to preserve the victory. Tonganoxie ended the season with a record of 11-7-1 and had 10 seniors play in their final match.
Kroll said for the players returning next season, playing a team of St. James’ caliber in the state tournament is a valuable experience.
“It’s priceless because they just saw the game played very well,” Kroll said. “I’m going to say very well by St. James and probably as good as we’re capable of playing in (Tonganoxie).”
The Chieftains advanced to the state tournament after coming up a match short the past two years. Tonganoxie played the role of underdog in this match, but Kroll said the program is getting its name out and will continue to improve.
“I would say that this is definitely the start. This is definitely the beginning,” Kroll said. “I mean, a lot of things have changed, a lot of things have changed over the course of the last year but yeah, it’s the new face of (Tonganoxie) soccer, and it’s only going to get better.”
The Chieftains now know the feeling of making the state tournament, and will use the success of the season as motivation to repeat next year.
“We’ll be going all out next year for sure,” Saathoff said. “Just that feeling after this year is great and I know it will roll over to next year and we’ll just be, I’d say, ecstatic to get back to playing, get after it, and get to the same place, if not further, next year.”