There were high-fives, hugs, smiles and lots of celebration for the Francis Howell High Vikings soccer team last Saturday afternoon.
A team that was just looking to get out of a tough Class 4 District 6 playoff managed to reach the top of mountain.
Francis Howell (20-7-1) defeated Class 4 power Rockhurst 4-1 on Friday in the Class 4 semifinals and then on Saturday afternoon, the Vikings held off De Smet Jesuit 1-0 to claim the first state championship in school history at Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri.
For Howell players, such as senior standout goalie Matt Hunt, the feeling of winning it all is still surreal. “It’s unbelievable that it’s all still happening and it hasn’t fully sunken in,” Hunt said. “We knew if we went out there and just played with each other and left our heart out on the field that we would continue to win and everything else would just take care of itself.”
After an Oct. 3 loss to Gateway South Conference rival Francis Howell Central (3-0), the Vikings caught fire – winning four straight games heading into districts.
Then the dreaded Class 4, District 6 Tournament arrived and the Vikings knocked off Fort Zumwalt North and Francis Howell Central in overtime to advance onto sectional play. The district championship win seemed to be the turning point for the Vikings to believe a state run was possible.
“After we won the district championship against Howell Central we just stayed hungry and we just refused to lose,” Hunt said.
That refusal to lose in the postseason made Howell a force in the playoffs as the mindset permeated the entire club.
“After we won the district championship and once we saw the final four bracket, there was really no doubt in any of the guys and everyone was confident we could find a way to get the job done,” Francis Howell coach Michael Enright said.
During the regular season and postseason, senior forward Joel Jenkins, senior forward Jake Taylor, sophomore defender Jake Totty and senior midfielder Ryan Zile made major contributions on offense. Senior defenseman Jarod Green helped anchor the Vikings’ back line and Hunt provided a strong presence at the goal.
Howell claimed the championship game on Saturday thanks to a first half goal by Caden Castello that Hunt made stand up by turning away eight shots.
“He got his left foot on it and slotted it nicely into the side netting,” Enright said.
The trip to the state tournament was only the second for the Vikings in soccer, the last one coming in 1992. Hunt believes that the state title will now make Francis Howell a destination school for soccer players to come to in the future.
“A public school had not won a state championship in 20 plus years and we’re the first one to do it since then,” Hunt said. “I think the bar is set where it is after this year, and that Francis Howell’s going to see a lot of success in the future.”
St. Dominic takes second place in Class 3
In the Class 3 Tournament, perennial contender St. Dominic made its third trip in four seasons to the state championship game but was denied the title by Webster Groves in a 3-2 heart breaker last Saturday in the Class 3 championship game.
“They were crushed, completely crushed,” St. Dominic coach Greg Koeller said of his players after the game. “It’s a stunner and heart breaker, especially for those seniors who put so much into it. I told them that ‘you’re going to look back on this and see that the season you put together was incredible.'”
The Crusaders, who were a middling 6-7-2 in early October, ripped off five straight wins, including a 4-0 semifinal win over Grain Valley last Friday.
“A little past midway through the season the boys made the commitment to be successful and improve their performance and I think they did that for the most part,” Koeller said.
Senior forwards Will Faherty and Jack Stoll provided the big scoring punch for the Crusaders as Collin Chrun was the club’s top assist man.
Junior Collin Baker and sophomore Brennan Whitt provided a strong, virtual fortress around the goal for St. Dominic.
St. Dominic finished the season at 17-11-2 and has appeared in the state tournament 7 of the past 12 seasons.