Francis Howell Central and Fort Zumwalt South did not come away with the ultimate prize on the weekend of Nov. 14 in the Class 3 and Class 4 soccer tournament at Blue Springs South High School in suburban Kansas City. Still, the two clubs came back with a pair of gifts that were much more valuable in the long run to their schools and programs.
Honor and pride.
Howell Central, which finished with a school-best 23-5-1 mark, lost to Lee’s Summit 2-1 in the Class 4 semifinals on Nov. 14, but bounced back in the Class 4 third-place game with a 2-0 win over Rockhurst on Nov. 15. The win left the Spartans feeling that their first-ever trip to the Class 4 Tournament was well worth the sweat and practice time they had put in since August.
“It was our first trip to state since the school began in 1997, and we have had some success in the playoffs, but what these kids did this season was just really special,” Howell Central coach Derek Phillips said.
For Howell Central senior midfielder and captain, Ryan Hutson, the state tournament experience was something he will savor long beyond his playing days.
“I think being the first Howell Central team to make it to the final four and to have it happen in my senior year was just a really awesome experience,” Hutson said. “We really came in focused on winning the championship but after losing (to Lee’s Summit), we got together and said we were not going to lose the third-place game. We came out and got the win and third place, so it feels really good to have that happen.”
The school support and enthusiasm for the Spartans was amazing the week of the tournament, and Phillips believes that this run has helped elevate Howell Central into top-tier status as an elite soccer program.
“I think we have had some good teams at FHC the last few years and now I believe people will notice that we play pretty good soccer out here in the GAC (Gateway Athletic Conference),” Phillips said. “The school support for the players was just tremendous.”
Like Howell Central, Fort Zumwalt South had to overcome a crushing last-second loss to Springfield Glendale in the semifinals to finish with a sense of redemption and success.
A last-minute Glendale goal in the Nov. 14 semifinal game denied the Bulldogs their first chance at a Class 3 title game, but Zumwalt South rebounded solidly on Nov. 15 in the third-place game against Smith-Cotton. A clutch goal from senior forward Brendan Mann in the final minute of regulation and superb goaltending from Andrew Orf allowed the Bulldogs to finish with a 1-1 tie and a share of the third-place trophy.
“It was such a crazy play that I was just so glad I could get a goal in my last high school soccer game and help us win the third-place game and not go home 0-2 at state,” Mann said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to have my career end at Fort Zumwalt South.”
Zumwalt South (19-7-1) knocked off the likes of two-time defending Class 3 champion St. Dominic and Ladue in the process of making their inaugural run to state.
“I think what these kids were able to do – after starting the season at 3-5 and being able to just be determined to battle and fight and get better and then to make this run – has been a really special experience for them, the school and the community as well,” Fort Zumwalt South coach Jim Layne said.
Layne is a firm believer that the state success of the Bulldogs and Howell Central will definitely make future players consider staying in public schools to play soccer down the road and keep those programs relevant.
“The kids that are playing for us now, their parents played in North County and we are now starting to see those kids spread throughout the GAC at Howell Central, Fort Zumwalt North, East, West, South and Howell. And with this success, the St. Charles County area has now become a hotbed for soccer talent and that should definitely keep these programs successful down the line,” Layne said.