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Fort Zumwalt South enjoys state title, accolades for player Gibbs, coach Layne

Fort Zumwalt South boys soccer coach Jim Layne and his Bulldogs provided a much-needed lift in spirits for the school and the area when the team captured its second Class 3 state championship in three years.

Fort Zumwalt South (23-4) scored a 3-0 verdict over Cape Girardeau Notre Dame (16-2) to earn the crown. In the postseason, the team’s star player and coaches also were awarded honors for their accomplishments.

Fort Zumwalt South celebrates its state soccer win.
(Scott Truscott Photography/scott-truscott-photography.smugmug.com)

Just getting to play at all was a much needed salve for the region.

“I think it was special to everyone who is connected with Fort Zumwalt and wanted to grab onto something positive, whether that be a student or faculty member in the district or a member within the community,” said Layne, who is a class of 2000 Fort Zumwalt South alumnus. “It was a very stressful year, especially the fall, given the uncertainty within society, so hopefully this accomplishment left many with a positive memory of 2020.”

Certainly, junior forward Karson Gibbs will never forget his 2020 season. He scored a single-season record 49 goals to go along with 15 assists for a whopping 113 points. Eleven of his goals were game-winning tallies, including in the state championship game.

As a freshman, Gibbs scored 14 goals and 14 assists for 42 points with five game-winning goals. Last year, he scored 22 goals and 15 assists for 55 points. Four of those goals were game-winners. His total of career 85 goals also is a school record.

Karson Gibbs shows off the awards bestowed on him following his 2020 soccer season.
(Photo courtesy of the athlete)

Gibbs was one of three Missouri athletes chosen by the United Soccer Coaches to the fall boys high school all-American team. He also was the 2020 Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association’s boys Class 3 all-state Player of the Year and was named the 2020 boys Class 3, Region 2 (Districts 5-8) Player of the Year. Additionally, he was first-team all-state for the second year and was the Gateway Athletic Conference Central Division Player of the Year.

Gibbs is the first Bulldog to be named an all-American. A bit of deception was used to let him know about the award last month.

“The school’s main principal (Kevin Keltner) came to my classroom to say I was going to have be quarantined,” Gibbs said. “I was actually pretty mad about it. I didn’t want to be quarantined before the break for the holidays.”

He was removed from his classroom for the presentation of the award.

“It was a huge relief to see my parents (Brandon and Jen) and brothers (Ryley and Chase) along with coach Layne,” he said. “I got the all-American certificate. Right after that, I went back to class. My principal came on the intercom and announced it to everyone. It was pretty cool.”

Layne, who was named the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association’s Class 3 Coach of the Year for the second time, was happy for Gibbs.

“Earning all-American is an unbelievable honor for Karson, his family, teammates, school and community, and is a very rare honor to achieve,” Layne said. “This is the first all-American soccer player at Fort Zumwalt South and to my knowledge, the first male soccer player to earn this honor in the history of the Fort Zumwalt School District.

“Looking at the season Karson had, and the team as a whole, there is no question he was the most worthy across the state of Missouri. He led not only the St. Louis area but also the state in goals scored for all classes and capped it off with a state title, which is his second in three years. He scored in every big game we had all season and was involved in all of our goals from the sectional game through the finals.”

Gibbs said his fellow Bulldogs play a huge role for him.

“It’s definitely cool to score 49 goals to set the school record,” Gibbs said. “My last goal of the season set the all-time school record for goals scored. It’s special to be No. 1 when you think about all the great players we’ve had here at South. My teammates are 100% helpful to me. My brother (Ryley, a freshman) had 25 assists and the majority of them were to me.”

Gibbs surpassed Devin Livingstone, a teammate of his in the fall of 2018 and 2019. Livingstone scored 45 goals in 2019 and was tied for the most goals in the area with Christian Kraus from Rockwood Summit.

Layne agreed with Gibbs about the team.

“I told the team that … each one of them should be extremely proud of not only Karson but themselves as well,” Layne said. “An honor such as this is not feasible without 19 other players doing their part day in and day out.”

While Gibbs plays forward for the Bulldogs, he plays midfielder for his club team, Scott Gallagher Elite 03. He believes playing both positions has made him a better all-around player. He takes pride in his assist total to show he can pass and help a teammate score.

“Over the past four to five years, we have been blessed with players that can find the back of the net,” Layne said. “What is different about Karson is the high percentage of his (scoring) opportunities and his ability to do so against top-level teams and when it matters the most. He never lets the game or moment get too big. I think this is because he is one of the hardest working players we had all season at training. This allowed him to be both physically and mentally prepared when he was in front of the goal.”

While scoring two goals and adding an assist in the state championship game rank high for Gibbs, he said the Bulldogs’ 2-1 win over perennially powerful Chaminade was his highlight of the season.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to beat Chaminade,” Gibbs said. “We won 2-1, and I scored our first goal on a penalty kick and then the goal to win it. I probably had five or six of my club team(mates) playing for Chaminade so that’s another reason that win was so satisfying for me. It showed our team can play with anyone.”

Layne said it’s fun to watch Gibbs play. He is a complete player and not just a scorer.

“Karson is a very unselfish player and one of the most gifted with the ball,” Layne said. “He is great in one-on-one situations and can work in very tight spaces. He is also a great leader recognizing the importance of this being a team sport. He could have scored a few more penalty kicks this season but chose to let other players (who did not have goals yet) take those opportunities.

“He understands that when needed he has to be a two-way player. This might sound odd considering we scored 113 goals, but the strength of our team this year was actually our defense and not just our backs and keeper but overall team defense. Karson, along with the entire group, did an excellent job of pressing the ball and keeping it in our opponent’s end.”

Gibbs does equally well in academics.

“He is an excellent student with a 3.8 GPA and works just as hard in the classroom as he does on the field,” Layne said. “He is also a great role model for not only his peers but most importantly his younger brothers Ryley (15) and Chase (9) and sister Brooklyn (7).”

In 2018, Fort Zumwalt South won the Class 3 state championship with a 2-1 victory over Webster Groves to cap a 21-9 season. Last year, it looked like a repeat as the Bulldogs entered the postseason with just one loss. However, the club finished 25-2 with a 4-0 loss to Rockwood Summit, the eventual state championship, in the sectional round.

So, this year’s team entered wanting to prove this team was the equal of the 2018 squad. Returning from the 2018 state title team were Gibbs, Ryan Harvatin, Luke Walsh, Jack Jellinek and Luke Dillon.

“We graduated 16 players following the 2019 season and all of them were part of the 2018 state title,” Layne said. “Most of this team was new to the varsity level. Getting back to a state title game was not something we talked about initially as we really didn’t know the potential of this group until the season was under way.”

The team won its district, sectional and quarterfinal games by shutout. In the semifinal, Fort Zumwalt South stopped Glendale 3-1 to advance to the championship game.

“This year was amazing in many ways. We were one of the best teams at the start and rode that for most of the season,” Layne said. “What is really special was our ability to finish the season on top after everything the boys had to overcome due to the pandemic. To win a state championship, there are many things that have to go your way so there are many comparisons that can be made on the soccer side of things.

“In both title games, our best players showed up and played to their potential and our supporting players played their best. But I think the biggest similarity was the level of commitment and sacrifice day in and day out by not only the boys but also their families.”

The program is losing only four players to graduation. There will be 16 players returning and nine of them are starters.

“Right now, my staff and I are really just enjoying this past season, but before long we will have to turn the page and start looking at 2021,” Layne said. “I will say that given the number of returning players, we are hopeful that if everyone stays healthy and continues to develop that we are optimistic about another successful season.”

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