First year coach Tom Guinn didnâ€™t know what to expect when he took the job as head coach of the boys soccer team at Springfield Catholic. He had never even seen them play. Guinn knew about the teamâ€™s recent success but he was told the Irish had lost quite a few seniors and he would have his work cut out for him.
â€œGoing into it I knew the expectations were going to be high,â€ Guinn said. I knew people were expecting us to win but I didnâ€™t know what kind of talent we were going to have. I would say within the first week or so I knew that this team was going to be good.â€
Guinnâ€™s gut feeling turned out to be a little off, the Springfield Catholic boys soccer team was a lot better than good. On Sunday, they capped an undefeated 29-0-1 season with a Class 1 State Championship by beating Pembroke Hill (KC) 1-0 in Blue Springs.
The state title was the first by a boysâ€™ soccer team in Southwest Missouri and it was a long time coming for the Irish. Though this is only the fifth year of the boysâ€™ soccer program at Springfield Catholic, the team has seen its share of heartbreak. After finishing third in 2008, the Irish were beaten in the state championship game the next two seasons.
Senior midfielder Luke Straus started in every Irish state tournament game. He said it was a huge relief for the team to finally break through this season.
â€œMy freshman year was the first time we ever went to state so honestly I was pretty happy with third and just going to state,â€ Straus said. â€œThe last two years have been pretty painful because we knew we were the better team.â€
Last season, the Irish entered the state championship game as heavy favorites against a Whitfield team they had beaten 3-0 in the regular season only to be shutout 1-0. Things had an eerie feel as the Irish stepped onto the pitch Sunday against a Pembroke Hill team they had dominated in October.
â€œIt was dÃ©jÃ vu all over again for us this year because we played Pembroke Hill in the regular season and beat them 3-0 and then we see them in the finals and we have a chance to exorcise our demons,â€ Guinn said. â€œI told the guys to realize that this isnâ€™t a regular season game this is a state title game, itâ€™s completely different and they need to come out and get things done.â€
During the regular season, there were only three games that the Irish did not win by at least three goals (the tie came against Ft. Zumwalt West in the Gateway City Classic) but, like coach Guinn said, everything is different in the state title game.
Pembroke Hill hung right with the Irish, but in the end the better team found a way as junior forward Mitch Moncadaâ€™s header landed in the back of the net and the Irish were finally state champs.
To make sure that sure that they did not wear down at the end of the year, the Irish made conditioning a big part of their training. Senior defender Reid Harbach said that the teamâ€™s goal was to out-work everybody else.
â€œWe like to keep a high level of practice all the time,â€ Harbach said. â€œWe work hard during sprints and everything to make sure weâ€™re more fit than the other teams because it makes a huge difference in the end.â€
Coach Guinn said that a combination of great leadership from his five seniors and the teamâ€™s strong work ethic were what put the Irish over the top. He said that from the first day of practice, the Irish were fiercely intent on winning the title and going undefeated and being the first Springfield area team to do so were just icing on the cake.
â€œI think it does mean a lot now that weâ€™ve done it,â€ Guinn said. â€œIt does mean a lot to the Springfield community. It puts Springfield soccer on the map.â€
Next season, coach Guinn and everyone else should have a pretty good idea of what the Springfield Catholic team is capable of. Now that theyâ€™ve gotten over the hump, good luck getting them back down.
This story was written by Harrison Keegan who previously covered Sporting KC on this website. He is a Missouri State student who covers sports for the Missouri State Standard and has also worked for TAGSGF.com.
MITCH MONCADA’S GAME WINNER AGAINST PEMBROKE HILL