By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — To say the Kickapoo (1-2) and Nixa (2-2) boys’ soccer programs know one another would be a vast understatement.
In fact, it wouldn’t do these two historic teams justice.
After all, the two met up at last year’s Class 4 District 10 semifinals game, when the Chiefs grounded the Eagles, 6-2.
The high-octane rivalry lived up to the billing once more, but this time, it was the Eagles came away with the 2-1 win in penalty kicks Thursday evening. The Eagles won penalty kicks 4-2.
The Chiefs officially opened their newly remodeled Jose Florez Field on Thursday.
The Eagles found themselves in an early 1-0 hole in the 18th minute of play, so to pull off the win speaks volumes on the grit and determination of the Eagles.
“It is a great test for us. Kickapoo is a great team,” Nixa head coach Evan Palmer said. “We had to catch up with their speed of play and figure out what they were doing. When we did that, guys played really well. We still have to work on possession and finding the right guy at the right time.”
Offensive possession emulated a teeter-totter, with touches and passing lanes being owned early by the Chiefs, but in the second half, that teeter-totter favored the Eagles, as Nixa found its groove and even had two shots on goal in the waning minutes of regulation.
“The grit these guys showed to come back, the grit they showed to hang in there — a couple times when it got past our centerbacks, [they were] able to catch up to them and make them miss the shot. That is the stuff that builds for the future. It shows how much heart this team has,” Palmer said.
During the penalty kick shootout and the score knotted up, 1-1, the Eagles’ Carson Beets capitalized first.
Brock Nelson, Andrew Anello, and Bryce Richmond all followed suit and found the net.
The Eagles field six seniors and four juniors this fall, but it’s the blend of veterans and newcomers that’s made waves so far during the early going.
“They have been big brothers to these guys,” Palmer said of the seniors. “We have a bunch of freshmen who are playing. We have some sophomores and juniors thrown into the mix, and these guys have done a great job of bringing them up to speed. Helping them realize what it takes to play varsity soccer. It has been a work in progress, but the kids we have are very talented young men. That core group (seniors) has been incredible.”
The Chiefs struck first when Joey Cockell found the net just inside the far right post 18 minutes into regulation.
But, just like the resolve and grittiness they showed down the stretch, the Eagles responded a mere two minutes later when senior Cooper Hines pushed the ball inside the left post for the equalizer.
While possession was anything but fluid and continual, the Eagles kicked it into hyper drive throughout the second half and both overtime periods — keeping momentum as an ally.
“Learning where we could find the openings with the way they [Chiefs] were playing, we figured that out, found some people, and had some good chances,” Palmer said of the second half and two overtime periods.
Andrew Anello exposed the left seam four minutes into the second half but missed wide right.
But the Eagles had found their groove, passing to feet and serving as the aggressors to close out the night.
“We were getting some good opportunities, and I really thought we were going to get one [goal] there,” Palmer said.
Junior goalkeeper Nick Reid set the tone all night with his defensive prowess, often being parallel to the ground.
And keeping Kickapoo out of the net the final 20-plus minutes comments on the junior’s ability maintain tunnel vision, no matter what the scoreboard shows.
“I usually don’t guess [direction]. That’s a little bit of it if I don’t know the player, but if you watch the player throughout the game, you can kind of tell their body movements and which way … you pick a side,” Reid said of the shootout.
Reid had to pull double-duty on the Chiefs’ first attempt, as he was not properly positioned.
But, again, the junior never wavered in his preparation.
“The first one didn’t count, technically, but it is big to get the first one,” he said.
Defeating a district foe at the beginning of the season often times produces added chemistry and camaraderie, and Reid hopes this match follows suit.
“It definitely motivates us more because we see when all of us come together and work hard, good things happen. That is good to see,” he said.