Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — The Central Bulldogs boys soccer team (15-6) has fought for each and every win this season.
After all, falling one game shy of a Class 4 District 11 title just one year ago certainly has a way of cranking up the offseason motivation: no matter how many players graduated.
And that motivation paid off, as the Bulldogs (No. 3 seed) defeated the fourth-seeded Waynesville Tigers (10-11), 3-0, Thursday for the Class 4 District 10 championship at Kickapoo High School.
The Bulldogs’ pregame huddle was loud and loose — a bit of foreshadowing for what would come over the next two hours — as junior forward Noe Winston hit for two scores (one in each half) and senior midfielder Jung So found the net from 30 yards out during the second half to catapult the Bulldogs to their second district championship.
Winston said the 1-0 lead going into halftime was crucial and highlighted the pregame to-do list.
“It was very important for us because we have to play big,” Winston said, whose penalty kick at the 18’ mark of the second half gave the Bulldogs the hat trick. “The second goal (So) we scored was very helpful. We played well and made good connections.”
Central head coach Dr. Christine Welch said the past three, four weeks have shown great stride in her roster: one that is comprised of seasoned veterans and freshmen contributors.
“We were coming off some pretty big wins. Rolla was a big win for us (4-3). We had never beat Rolla before,” Welch said. “Branson was a big win for us (6-2). Just coming back into the district, we knew we were going to play Kickapoo, and we had never beat them before — boys or girls. So, it was just this is what we are going to do, and this is how we are going to win it. And so, we came to Kickapoo with that mindset.”
The Bulldogs defeated the second-seeded Kickapoo Chiefs 2-1 in double overtime Tuesday during semifinal action.
The previous and only district title for the Bulldogs was four years ago, when Central defeated the very same Waynesville program, 3-1, for the Class 4 District 9 title.
For the Bulldogs, they simply tossed the seeds out the window this season, as defense — most notably the stinginess and athleticism of sophomore goalkeeper Brett Turner — who could be seen levitating for a moment, and then showing his horizontal range the next to center stage — diving for balls in front of the net and off his left and right hips.
“He is a very cool character. He is very chill about stuff, and he has never been a goalkeeper before this season,” Welch said. “He is very calm, and you need that in a keeper. He is kind of calm, which isn’t always great, but he gets it done.”
Time of possession and shots on goal was a balancing act throughout the first 40 minutes of play, and after a few close calls, Waynesville kept on the pressure.
Waynesville produced back-to-back shots on goal at the 19’ mark of the opening half, but the Bulldogs’ attack remained vigilant and never wavered — taking the touches and exposing the passing lanes.
While his name won’t show up in the box score, junior Will Young kept possessions alive down along the perimeter and seams.
Young’s motor serves as a nice metaphor for the team’s high level of energy this season.
“He is kind of quiet, too. But when it is time to go, he is like one of those wind-up dolls,” Welch said of Young. “He doesn’t stop. He won’t give up. He is just one of those kids.”
The team lost eight seniors off last year’s team, and currently have five on the roster, so cohesiveness was paramount to a successful 2019 campaign.
“We talked a lot about, at the beginning of the season, how we just need to come together losing that many starters, really,” Welch said, “and work with the young guys.”
The team fields a total of five seniors and six freshmen this season.
“Kind of build the gap between,” Welch said of her mixed roster. “They have really done that. Probably more in the past month, with those big wins.”
Central now prepares for the Jefferson City (16-5)—Rock Bridge (21-4) winner: whom they meet during the Class 4 sectionals Tuesday.
Location has yet to be determined.