2021 Boys Postseason Analysis
In what has been a historical and competitive postseason marked with Cinderella runs, shocking upsets and heart-stopping matches, Missouri’s 54th official high school season culminates this weekend at the Worldwide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton with 16 schools vying for the title of state champion in four different classes.
The finals weekend is the third consecutive to have all four classes playing on the same weekend and marks a return to WWT after last year’s finals were played at Lake County Complex in Springfield. Due to Covid, only semifinals Friday and finals Saturday were played with co-third place finishers awarded for the first time since 1990. Previously, third place games were played seven times in the first 23 years of the tournament until the 1991 change to add the 3rd place games in 1991. WWT (formerly St. Louis Soccer Park, AB Conference Sports Centre, Anheuser-Busch Center) is the most familiar site of the finals (this is year 31) and a favorite of Missouri soccer fans due to its multi-field availability, picturesque setting along the river and colorful local history resonating with names and teams from the past. Previously, the finals were held for four years in Blue Springs (2011-2015) while Lindenwood (1978-85), Washington University, O’Fallon Tech High School, Musial Field and Normandy High School hosted the early finals.
The decision in 2014 to move boys soccer into four classes, along with last year’s implementation of the Championship Factor placed on successful private/charter schools, has changed the landscape of the final four in one drastic way - 2021 will mark one of the fewest with private schools participating (by percentage) in the final four of any year since the first playoff in 1968. Just five private schools will compete this weekend (31%), eclipsed only by the previous low of 25% (2 of 8) in 1986. No other year has been less than 43% and all of those came after the four classes came into play. (The 2002 final four - the first with three classes - was nearly all private, 11 of 12.) For context, private schools make up just under 24% of the total number of teams participating in boys soccer, so this year’s numbers are actually closer in alignment.
Despite the lower than usual numbers, history, both past and present, still favors those private schools this weekend. As discussed last week (according to the MSHSAA state program/website), private schools have won all but 20 of the 116 state championships in boys soccer (82.8%). Fun fact: 13 private schools account for 75 of the 116 championships, led by Aquinas-Mercy (and its other collaborations) with 11 and CBC with 10. Four public schools are tied with two each and three of those four earned their titles once the fourth class was added. Oakville (1976, 2000) is the only public school to win two prior to 2014.
Since 2002, 52 of the 64 champions have been private (81.3%). Since the 2014 four-class move, public schools have fared better, winning 12 of 28, including all seven in class 3 - a trend that will continue this year as all four class 3 teams are public. (Note: class 3 typically has a smaller number of private schools within its 64 than the other three classes. Only four private schools have reached a class 3 final four since 2014 and just one, Cape Notre Dame in 2020, played in a final.)
While the deep and colorful traditions of the tournament perhaps paint a general perspective, what’s likely more important is the current bios of the teams playing this weekend. Based on the updated Missouri Power Rankings (MPR current through quarterfinal play), all four overall #1 teams in each class advanced to the final four and three of those four were from the private ranks. Simply put, the four teams that finished the regular season atop the MPR rankings are still playing and are likely considered the favorites going into the weekend. Three #2 teams are also still alive, along with two #4 teams.
All that being said, each team playing this weekend survived a two-week test and all were tested in some way. Eleven of the 16 were district #1 seeds, while two others were two seeds. Three #3 seeds bucked the odds and won at least two upsets to advance. MSHSAA awarded 32 district champions this year in soccer and 27 were either #1 or #2 seeds, so the three #3 seeds (Fair Grove, Blue Springs and John Burroughs) have proven their mettle after entering with less than a 19% chance of even advancing from districts, let alone the quarters.
Missouri Power Ranking (MPR) Notes: The number in the first ( ) is the NEWEST MPR after quarterfinal play. A (+.00) number is the difference between the two teams. The lower the number, the closer the two teams are based on the MPR. Typically, a number under (+.5000) means that there is a better chance of a possible “upset.” There were 37 occurrences (out of 205 games) of teams with under a (+.5000) upsetting a higher ranked team, while there were only nine games that teams with a (+.5000) lost. Jackson and John Burroughs (2) combined for three of those nine upsets.
If there is any team who has escaped postseason drama this year, it’s St. Pius. Brentwood ended the Lancers’ seven-game shutout streak in the quarters, but that was the only blemish in the 7-1 win. Fair Grove, on the other hand, took little note of its #3 district seed in reaching its second final four with this senior class. First-year coach Krista Miller has guided the Eagles to six straight wins. Both teams have shown the ability to find the net, but the Lancers defense (0.9 Goals Against Average) could be the deciding factor. Neither team has ever reached a final, but Pius does have four 3rd places and one 4th. Fair Grove finished third in 2018.
Lutheran St. Charles (1) (+.2475) vs. Maryville (4) Friday 12:00 p.m.
The second Class 1 semifinal matches two similar teams with similar backgrounds. Both schools are in their first semifinal and both reached that spot with dramatic quarterfinal wins. LSC, #1 most of the year, escaped Borgia in penalties at home, while Maryville got a 74th minute goal to knock out previously undefeated Smithton on the road. The Cougars haven’t lost (12-0-1) since a 5-0 match against Class 2 #1 Whitfield Oct. 1, while the Spoofhounds entered into the postseason on a down note with a 7-0 loss against LeBlond. In fact, when things go bad for Maryville, they go bad quickly as they’ve given up 27 goals in their five losses. On the bright side, Maryville is able to stay in games with its offense that averages just over 4 goals per match.
Each team entered the playoffs as the district #1 seed, but the two paths to the semis were quite different. Perryville stayed at home and won its three playoff games by a 16-1 margin, including a 6-1 quarterfinal win over previous playoff nemesis St. Mary’s. Excelsior Springs won both district games in Odessa by shutout and then had to rally Saturday at Logan-Rogersville from two second half deficits to force extra time and eventually penalties before persevering. Perryville (since 2009) hasn’t had a losing season - usually behind its offense, which has statistically put up better numbers than ever before this year (5.1 Goals Per Game), but its stingy defense has also been up to the task (.8 GAA). ES, on the other hand, has been sporadic over the years - including last season’s 5-14 mark, but Zac Ganzer’s squad keeps finding a way and have made a 13 game improvement since last year. Perryville has won both previous semi appearances, while the Tigers won its only other semi way back in 2004.
Whitfield (1) (.9379) vs. Harrisonville (16) 5:00 p.m. Friday
On paper this is the biggest discrepancy between two teams playing Friday. The Warriors enter the semi with all the history (7 titles, 3 2nd place in 10 attempts), the recent success (#1 or #2 in MPR all season) and even some motivation after losing last year’s Class 1 final 1-0. Whitfield bumped up a class with most of last year’s core intact and a new coach in Charlie Noonan, but had to navigate the most difficult Class 2 district with Westminster (3) and Orchard Farm (5). The quarters proved less stressful in a 6-0 victory over Christian (21). The Wildcats, while a #1 district seed despite its losing mark, haven’t had an easy night on the pitch in almost a month. Dan Coleman’s squad lost the last two regular season matches by a goal each (including a 1-0 decision at Excelsior Springs) before slipping past St. Pius (KC) in OT and Barstow 4-3 in 2OT in the district finals. The quarters weren’t much easier as a 72nd minute goal proved to be the difference in a 1-0 win over Chillicothe. The Wildcats will have to be sharp defensively and efficient on restarts if it wants to take out the Class 2 favorite.
Class 3’s rookie of the final four (Ladue) meets up with the most experience squad (Glendale) in what could be the most even match of the day. Glendale coach Jeff Rogers has pretty much seen it all and done it all in his 31 seasons - all except for win a state title. He’s closing in on 600 boys wins, something only four other MO coaches have accomplished, and with a big girls season could eclipse 1,000 wins in the spring. The Falcons have made things interesting in the postseason - nearly blowing a two-goal lead in the district final against Catholic and hanging on to a 3-0 lead for a 3-2 win in Saturday’s quarter against Neosho. Ladue coach Dave Aronberg is no stranger to the postseason, but this year marks Ladue’s first final four appearance after a decade of district dominance. In a rare common opponent comparison Friday, both teams lost to Pembroke Hill during the season: Ladue 3-0 and Glendale 4-0. That was Glendale’s only loss in the past 20 games. Ladue entered the playoffs losing three of four but arguably played its best match of the year in Saturday’s 2-0 quarter win at Mehlville.
Van Horn (10) vs. Ft. Zumwalt South (1) (+.6875) 1:30 p.m. Friday
Ft. Zumwalt South coach Jim Layne and his Bulldogs have gone all year wearing the defending champion target on their collective backs and seem to rise up when challenged behind its experienced squad as evidenced by its come-from-behind quarter win over Rockwood Summit. A big Bulldog weekend would give them their third title in four years and make Layne the only public coach to win three boys titles. FZS topped Van Horn in the 2018 semis en route to its first state title in the only other meeting. Both teams did defeat East (KC) in the regular season, FZS 9-1 and VH 5-3. Van Horn also had to eliminate local rivals Guadalupe in the quarters and William Chrisman in the district finals behind an improved defense that has only allowed two goals in its seven game win streak. The Falcons will need that kind of staunch defensive effort if it wants to pull the upset against a salty FZS squad.
Jackson (17) vs. Blue Springs (8) (+.2578) 4:00 p.m. Friday
Zack Walton’s Jackson squad and Mike Palermo’s Wildcats went 1-1 against common opponents. Jackson lost to Kickapoo 4-0, while Blue Springs edged Kickapoo Saturday 1-0. Jackson took out Lee’s Summit West 2-1, while BS lost to LSW 2-1 in OT. Jackson is coming off a big OT win at home against Marquette - continuing a two-season run of extra time playoff success, while the Wildcats are used to road playoff games after three trips to Columbia for districts and a trip to Springfield for the quarters.
Rockhurst (1) (.+7931) vs. John Burroughs (11) 7:00 p.m. Friday
Brentwood (10) at St. Pius X (Festus) (3) (+.32) St. Pius X, 7-1.
A late season run from Brentwood wasn’t enough to hold off St. Pius as the Lancers nearly equaled the in-season game with a comfortable 7-1 win. Pius (17-6) will be looking to make its first final with coach Aaron Portell after making five previous final four appearances (four 3rds and fourth) under Hall of Fame coach Dan Bokern, the namesake of the St. Pius home field where the Lancers won Saturday.
Fair Grove (12) (+.46) at Laquey (24) Fair Grove, 2-0
Fair Grove (15-8) took advantage of an early goal off a rebound to eliminate Laquey for the second consecutive year. A second goal with 28 minutes to play gave the Eagles and first year coach Krista Miller some breathing room and sends them into its second final four. Laquey ends at 10-14-1.
St. Francis Borgia (19) at Lutheran St. Charles (1) (+1.14) Lutheran St. Charles 2-1 (3-1 PK)
High drama in St. Charles as the top seeded Cougars (20-5-1) advanced in a penalty kick shootout. LSC had a 1-0 lead at half, but Borgia (5-19) got the equalizer with just under 16 to play, sending the game into two 15 minute OTs and eventually penalties, where LSC advanced with a 3-1 differential. A classic case of a team getting hot at the end, Borgia nearly pulled off the upset. LSC makes its first final four.
Maryville (4) at Smithton (2) (+.20) Maryville 1-0
Class 1’s closest (on paper) quarterfinal didn’t disappoint. Maryville had a last second first half goal nullified as it came after the clock went to 0:00, but managed to find the net with six minutes to play to send the Spoofhounds and coach Jesus Gonzalez (15-5-1) to its first final four. Host Smithton suffered its first loss - finishing 23-1.
St. Mary’s (11) at Perryville (3) (+.46) Perryville, 6-1
Perryville’s (22-3) high-scoring offense finally wore down St. Mary’s (11-8-1) in the second half, scoring four times to pull away from a 2-1 halftime edge. The Pirates return to Soccer Park for the first time since finishing 2nd in 2015 and winning Class 2 in 2014, the first year of having four classes.
Christian (27) at Whitfield (1) (+1.13) Whitfield, 6-0
The top overall team in Class 2 rolled to an easy quarter win at home. The Warriors (17-5) will be looking for their 8th title and first since 2010 after losing the Class 1 final 1-0 last year. Christian’s (11-11) Cinderella run ends after a wild district week.
Excelsior Springs (9) at Logan-Rogersville (5) (+.17) Excelsior Springs 3-2 (PK)
What looked like a toss-up game on paper proved to be exactly that. Host L-R (19-5) took a 1-0 lead 13 minutes into the game, but Excelsior Springs knotted it early in the second half only to see LR score again on a penalty. ES got the equalizer with 17 minutes to play after a long restart and mad scramble in the box that forced the extra sessions that eventually went to penalties where the Tigers (18-5) advanced for the first time since finishing 2nd in 2004.
Chillicothe (8) (+.54) at Harrisonville (21) Harrisonville, 1-0
Another nail-biter in Harrisonville where the host team punched in the decisive goal with just over 8 minutes left. The Wildcats (10-10-1) move on for the first time since 2017’s fourth place team, while Chillicothe’s historic season ends at 20-4.
Ladue (6) at Mehlville (3) (+26) Ladue, 2-0
A long wait finally ended Saturday with the Rams (22-6-1) decision over Mehlville (18-3-1). Ladue gets over the quarterfinal hump in its 10th appearance with a huge road win over a Mehlville squad that had been top ranked earlier in the year. Ladue entered the playoffs on a two-game losing slide (and three of four), but righted the ship in what’s been a tense, but ultimately rewarding, postseason for Coach Dave Aronberg’s squad.
Neosho (8) at Glendale (2) (+.48) Glendale, 3-2
Glendale (25-3) seemed to have this one wrapped up early in the second half when it got out to a 3-0 lead, but Neosho (14-5) refused to quit and got to within 3-2 with 12 minutes to play. The Falcons held on for its second consecutive 3-2 win in the playoffs that featured early Glendale leads and late drama. Glendale’s win is the third in the past four seasons against Neosho in the playoffs.
Rockwood Summit (17) at Ft. Zumwalt South (1) (+.88) Ft. Zumwalt South, 2-1
When two teams with four of the last six Class 3 titles meet up in a quarter, it’s likely going to be a war and the two teams didn’t disappoint in a physical, tense match that went down to the wire. Summit (14-11) had the early 1-0 advantage that lasted until midway through the second half before FZS (23-3) tied it. The game-winner came with 17 minutes to play and the Bulldogs held on to keep their repeat title dreams alive.
Guadalupe (12 (+.16) at Van Horn (21) Van Horn, 2-0
Two teams with a rich local rivalry also went down to the wire in KC’s quarterfinal action. Van Horn (17-7-1) and Guadalupe (12-7) were even at the break, but VH punched in a 47th minute goal and added another insurance goal in the final moments to advance in front of an electric home crowd. The Falcons had struggled with giving up goals earlier in the year, but are now riding clean sheets in five of their last six matches.
There is perhaps no team better suited for last-minute drama than the Jackson Indians (18-7-2). A year after winning the 2020 Class 4 title in a heart-stopping run that saw four of its five playoff games go into OT (7 OT’s total), Zack Walton’s squad was at it again Saturday. Jackson’s goal with under 30 seconds to play in the first OT eliminated Marquette (16-5-1) in stunning fashion.
Blue Springs (17) at Kickapoo (10) (+.21) Blue Springs, 1-0
Two equally matched teams met in Springfield with Blue Springs continuing its road success in a 1-0 win behind a goal with 21 minutes left. Kickapoo (20-7-1) hit the post and crossbar in an opening second half flurry, but the Wildcats (15-8) continued their solid defensive play in the playoffs - four games, four shutouts - and held on.
Liberty (Wentzville) (13) (+.17) at John Burroughs (21) John Burroughs, 2-0
Just when you thought John Burroughs had done (and seen) it all this postseason, there was more. The Bombers (17-6-1) hosted a Liberty (17-6-2) squad riding high off an emotional win over St. Dominic and got out to a 1-0 halftime lead via a penalty. From there, the game picked up and JB keepers (one off the bench after a GK yellow) faced not one, not two, but THREE penalty kicks - without allowing any to score before getting a little bit of breathing room with a breakaway goal in the last few minutes. A week after taking out #2 SLUH and #3 Chaminade, Burroughs, a squad bumped up two classes by the Championship Factor, gets a match with #1 Rockhurst in the semis.
Park Hill (23) at Rockhurst (1) (1.09) Rockhurst, 1-0
This would seemed a bit one-sided on paper, but Park Hill (15-9-1) gave the overall #1 team in MO all it could handle at Rockhurst. The Hawklets (22-2) broke through in the game’s final five minutes on a goal by a freshman to advance and end Park Hill’s upset bid. The state’s most awarded program will return to Soccer Park for the first time since 2018 on the strength of its defense, which secured its 15th shutout Saturday.
Nov. 12 Quarterfinal Preview
After a long week off from games it is nearly go time for the 32 playoff qualifiers. Along with the usual case of big-game jitters, it is entirely possible that players will be working out the rust a bit from a long layoff in the early minutes of matches. Teams that played well and advanced last week will be trying to ride that same momentum which is often difficult to do over an extended layoff. Players should have benefitted from the rest and coaches will have had ample time to prepare - in several cases for teams unfamiliar to them. In others, there will be some rematches of games from earlier in the year. One note - only two of the matches will be played after dark (Van Horn/Guadalupe at 5 and Rockwood Summit/Ft. Zumwalt South at 6). While certainly a temperature difference, both games’ environments should benefit from the extra dimension of playing under the lights, especially since each game is going to feature programs that have won state championships recently.
As always, one main factor will come into play with host schools fields in the mix. Home teams definitely get a boost due to familiarity, environment and less travel. It looks as though wet weather will not be a factor, except for possibly the night games getting slick.
Note: MPR will be in ( ) and a positive number will show the difference in MPR points between the two teams.
There will be a first-time champion in Class 1 for the second consecutive year as all eight schools and the four top-ranked teams according to the Missouri Power Rankings (MPR) battle to advance. Historically, St. Pius X (Festus) has the most playoff appearances with 14, but none of the current players have played in a playoff game before. Smithton, Maryville and Lutheran St. Charles are all repeat district champions so possess the most experience. Fair Grove’s seniors were part of the school’s third place team in 2018.
Brentwood (10) at St. Pius X (Festus) (3) (+.32)
Brentwood (13-7) is making its third playoff appearance and first in 2017. Pius (16-6) also last reached in 2017, but has been a frequent playoff team over its long history. Not only does Pius have a stronger tradition, but Brentwood has never beat Pius in 12 previous attempts. Pius also thumped the Eagles earlier in the season 7-0.
Fair Grove (12) (+.46) at Laquey (24)
Two teams very familiar with each other are also very even historically. Saturday’s quarter will mark the 19th game between the two - each winning nine. Fair Grove (14-8) beat Laquey (10-13-1) 3-1 last month and also knocked the Hornets out of last year’s district tournament, 1-0 that ended a two-year run of playoff appearances. Three of the last four results have been 1-0 finals.
St. Francis Borgia (19) at Lutheran St. Charles (1) (+1.14)
On paper this one seems like the biggest mismatch of the day as Borgia comes in with just a 5-18 record against the the state’s top class 1 team, but Borgia’s demanding schedule and playoff history (5-1) against Lutheran (19-5-1) could make this closer than what it seems. Three of Borgia’s wins have come in the last four games, including a big upset of Father Tolton in the district finals. LSC has cruised through the playoffs and hasn’t lost since Oct. 1 against Class 2 #1 Whitfield. This is Borgia’s first trip to the playoffs since finishing 3rd in 2015, while LSC has the experience factor of advancing last season. Each team lost to St. Mary’s…Borgia 2-0 and LSC 1-0.
Maryville (4) at Smithton (2) (+.20)
These two will meet for the first time for a final four spot on the line in what is the closest MPR game in Class 1. Smithton is the state’s only undefeated team remaining (23-0), while the Spoofhounds carry a 14-5-1 mark. Both teams advanced last season, so both have the experience. One common opponent - Sacred Heart, a team Smithton topped 2-1 and one Maryville tied 2-2.
Plenty of history in Class 2 as three (St. Mary’s, Whitfield and Perryville) of the eight remaining have rich playoff history and a combined 14 championships. St. Mary’s advances for the 34th time in its rich history, while Whitfield looks for its 8th title after losing in last year’s class 1 final. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Logan-Rogersville and longtime coach Brett Wubbena make their first playoff appearance.
St. Mary’s (11) at Perryville (3) (+.46)
A lot of green happening in Perryville tomorrow in a classic battle of offense (Perryville averages 5 goals a game) vs. defense (St. Mary’s allows .8). Perryville (21-3) looks to be a strong favorite here at home (away teams have struggled here historically), but has never beat the Dragons (11-7-1) in four tries, including last year’s district matchup. Perryville makes its fifth playoff under Jerry Fulton and has a 2014 title and 2015 runner up trophy, while St. Mary’s has six titles - the last coming in 2010.
Christian (27) at Whitfield (1) (+1.13)
Two seemingly opposite teams meet up at Whitfield’s beautiful facility in what features the top seed and the lowest remaining team of all classes, but each team’s road through the playoffs was very similar. Upstart Christian (11-10) knocked off 2020 qualifier Fulton in penalties and then eliminated defending Class 1 champ Southern Boone 1-0, ending the state’s longest playoff streak at 11. In the meantime, Whitfield, despite its 1 MPR number was the 2 seed in District 3 and had to take out both #4 Orchard Farm in the semis and #2 Westminster in the finals. In both cases, each team earned a spot in the quarters. Whitfield was the small class juggernaut from 2002-2010 under Hall of Fame coach Bill Daues, winning seven titles. Christian reaches for the eighth time but has yet to advance to a final four.
Excelsior Springs (9) at Logan-Rogersville (5) (+.17)
Closely matched in MPR, no common opponents and a first-time ever meeting between two new to the postseason teams should make for a great environment in Rogersville. Excelsior Springs advances for the third time and first since 2015, but the real story here is Coach Zac Ganzer’s squad improving from 5 wins last season to 17-5 this year. L-R’s (19-4) slow build to a playoff appearance came when it eliminated perennial SW power Monett in the district semifinal before topping another first-time hopeful Osage 3-1 in the final.
Chillicothe (8) (+.54) at Harrisonville (21)
Chillicothe (20-3) makes the journey into Harrisonville (9-10-1) as one of the state’s hottest teams. The Hornets haven’t lost since Sept.9, winning 18 in a row and return to the playoffs for the 4th time and first since 2019. Harrisonville’s record may not be as gaudy, but Coach Dan Coleman’s Wildcats play a demanding schedule and have the edge in common opponent win scores (each team defeated Knob Noster and St. Pius (KC) as well as the advantage of playing at home. Harrisonville makes its 8th playoff appearance and finished 4th in 2017 while Chillicothe looks for its first trip to STL.
For those wanting to see a seeding done after district play, Class 3 is about as close as you can get. Mix in several region rivalries and all kinds of championship pedigrees and that should make for a fun Saturday in this class. Defending champ Ft. Zumwalt South hosts another recent champ in Rockwood Summit, while Guadalupe is only two years away from winning the 2019 Class 2 title. Glendale’s legendary coach Jeff Rogers is no stranger to postseason play while Mehlville and Ladue have been lurking at the top of the rankings all year. Neosho and Van Horn may not be class 3 household names, but both are very capable of making a run.
Mehlville (3) (+26) at Ladue (6)
These two have only met twice (Ladue winning both in 2018 and 19), but share eight common opponents that shows Mehlville (18-2-1) with a slight advantage (and higher MPR score) over Ladue (21-6-1), but a home field advantage could slide toward the Rams as Mehlville’s two losses and tie both came on the road. Each team enters play after winning very difficult districts and both teams have experience in the playoffs. Mehlville makes its 12th trip, while Ladue is in its 10th after having a streak of eight snapped last year. Mehlville has one final four berth (2007), while Ladue seeks its first ever trip.
Neosho (8) at Glendale (2) (+.48)
Each team knows nothing BUT the playoffs as both have advanced over recent history. Neosho (14-4) is on its 5th consecutive run, while Glendale (24-3) is at 10 and 25th overall. That’s where the similarities end, as Glendale seeks its 8th final four (two 2nd, two 3rd three 4th) and Neosho its first trip. The two teams met on Sept. 10 with Glendale gaining a 2-0 win. The Falcons also knocked Neosho out of the 2018 and 2020 playoffs in the only other meetings. Neosho had an easier time in the districts, pulling away from Bolivar in the second half for a 3-1 win, while Glendale survived a wild one against local foe Springfield Catholic, scoring the game-winner with 18 seconds left in regulation after letting a 2-0 lead disappear.
Rockwood Summit (17) at Ft. Zumwalt South (1) (+.88)
The road to a championship has gone through this region for the past several years and could again this year. This is the 4th time in six years the two have met in the playoffs with Summit (14-10) winning the first two and FZS (22-3) 1-0 last year en route to a state title. Summit was under .500 before going on its current five-game winning streak and cruising to a district title - its 12th and third consecutively. The Falcons won titles in 2016 and 2019. The Bulldogs had a trickier time in the district final when it slipped past a game FZE squad 2-1 for its 8th consecutive appearance and 11th overall. FZS will try to advance for its fifth time to a final four where it has two titles (2018 and 2020 and two thirds 2014, 2016).
Guadalupe (12 (+.16) at Van Horn (21)
Saturday marks the 18th match since 2010 between the two with each winning 8 and adding a draw, but it will mark the first time they have met for a final four berth. Guadalupe (12-6) topped Van Horn (16-7-1) 4-1 Oct. 19, but this game will be in Independence and Van Horn hasn’t lost since. Expect plenty of offense here as both teams field quality scorers and suspect defenses (each is giving up over 1.5 goals per game). Guadalupe won Class 2 in 2019 and makes its fourth appearance, while Van Horn is also in its 5th playoff, finishing third in 2018.
#1 overall Rockhurst looks like the clear cut favorite - tops in MPR, history on its side with its 40th playoff appearance (most ever in MO) and a bit of a hunger after not having been to a final four since 2018 - but Class 4 could be a wide-open affair that features plenty of worthy challengers. 2020’s surprise champ Jackson is back, perennial small school power John Burroughs has already knocked off two of the top three teams in the same week and Marquette has been on the upward swing with a big district win over CBC. Liberty got over the St. Dominic hurdle for the first time and is obviously playing well, while Kickapoo and Blue Springs are playoff ready. Park Hill has the biggest challenge by number, but has several players with final four experience. The Championship Factor has certainly opened this class up for the taking.
Marquette (6) (+.32) at Jackson (19)
Newly named STL Hall of Fame Coach Chris Kenny hopes to keep Marquette’s (16-4-1) magical year going with a win at the defending champs field. One possible factor to consider - Marquette is 5-0 against common opponents while Jackson (17-7-2) is 0-4-1 - but soccer math is often misleading, especially against a team that plays a slightly different style like Zack Walton’s Indians do. The rest of Class 4 found that out last year. Jackson is no stranger to the playoffs in general with five appearances in the past six years, while Marquette is only in its third appearance since 2014 and seventh total. Jackson will have to defend better than its 1.5 GAA shows to have a chance.
Blue Springs (17) at Kickapoo (10) (+.21)
Road warriors Blue Springs heads to Springfield for its fourth away match of the playoffs in a contest showcasing two different geographic areas. Blue Springs (14-8) is actually representing the “central” area after traveling to Columbia three times last week and winning that district over host Rock Bridge 3-0 to advance for the second consecutive year and 15th overall. The Wildcats own one title - a landmark championship in 1996 that gave someone other than a STL team a first place trophy. Kickapoo (20-6-1) held off upset-minded Carthage to win its district and advance for the first time since finishing 4th in 2017. Blue Springs will need to slow down Kickapoo’s high flying offense (3.4 goals per game), while Kickapoo hopes to make a final four for the fourth time.
Liberty (Wentzville) (13) (+.17) at John Burroughs (21)
If you penciled in a state bracket prior to the playoffs starting, you likely wouldn’t have picked this one. Liberty finally solved nemesis and state power St. Dominic to advance for the second time in its eight-year history, while Burroughs surprised STL with wins over Pattonville, Chaminade (3) and SLUH (2). Despite neither team maybe being expected to be here, both have the tools to make some noise and tomorrow’s match (first ever meeting) should be a fun one. The Bombers host, but won’t be playing on the grass field that usually ranks as one of the best in the state. Instead (likely to accommodate the crowd), the game will be played on the stadium turf field. JB is one of the better environments to play in and these two should bring plenty of support. Burroughs is no stranger to playoff atmosphere, winning four titles, the last in 2018 to go along with four other state trophies. Both teams are stingy defensively and have similar MPR numbers so a restart could make a big difference here.
Park Hill (23) at Rockhurst (1) (1.09)
It’s been a little strange to NOT see a Rockhurst team in the final four for a while and the Hawklets (21-2) certainly look to be on their way to ending that mini streak against a battle-tested Park Hill (15-8-1) team that actually has more final experience than the Rockhurst squad. Still, the odds seem stacked against PH as Rockhurst has been dominant most of the year. Rockhurst hosts, has the championship pedigree (25 state trophies and 40 appearances) and hasn’t lost since late September (and that was to an out of state school, Marquette Jesuit). Maybe more importantly, the Hawklets have only given up .4 goals per game. This is also a rematch of last year’s playoff where PH upset Rockhurst 1-0 on its way to a 3rd place finish, so Coach Josh Marchbank knows how to create an upset and if anything Class 4 has been littered with those throughout 2021.
Before we start with soccer stuff, on behalf of all the veterans who may read this and who have served, we all thank you for your service. While there are many of our coaches who have served in the military, we would like to acknowledge St. Charles West coach Matt Dwyer who stepped down after this boys season as he gets ready to deploy to the Navy in March for all of 2022. Best wishes, Matt, and thank you for your commitment to our game and our country!
The past few days have led to some real good insight and thoughts from many people who have checked in regarding the Championship Factor and how it has affected and will impact our game. (An interesting take…with larger districts and the difficulty increasing of winning them, how many private schools will actually be affected? In Class 3 and 4 there were only three private school champions total, while class 1 and 2 had six, so not many private schools will have their totals adjusted next year, thus affecting the amount of movement between classes in theory.) While there is still much to figure out with that particular area, we thought we’d take a quick look at the current playoff format.
With the decision to go back to the larger district sizes, fewer districts and no sectional round for any of the classes, there are some new challenges and processes to consider. One of the biggest so far has been the concern of travel. While MSHSAA’s decision to go back to the larger district sizes (Class 3 and 4 each have eight districts of 8 teams; Class 1 and 2 have eight districts of 5-8 teams, depending on location) is certainly more in line with other sports and does make the district championship more “special” (for lack of a better word) due to its increased difficulty, it does create some challenges, particularly in the smaller classes and in the out-state areas.
An excellent example of this was the Class 4, District 6 that Rock Bridge hosted in Columbia. While it featured four mid-MO teams, it also had one STL area school (Timberland) and three from Blue Springs and Independence. This district/region has always been a difficult one for MSHSAA to create, especially with being limited to the 64 schools in Class 4. Two of the Jeff City schools dropped to Class 3, so there weren’t enough teams here to fill out an 8-team district. Blue Springs won the (very competitive) district, but it came with a price. From Blue Springs coach Mike Palermo, “Blue Springs, for the last two years, has had to travel to Columbia, Missouri to play a district game. We drove to Columbia to play Fort Osage, who is 2 miles down the road (from us) on a Saturday. Then traveled back to Columbia to play Blue Springs South who is in our backyard. This game didn’t start until 8:15 getting us home at 12:45 on a Monday night. Then traveled back down Wednesday for a final. We played three games in Columbia this year getting home well after midnight every night and players having to attend school the very next day. Last year after winning districts we traveled to Jeff City two days later. This year after repeating as district champs, we happen to be in the even district and are now traveling to Kickapoo Saturday. This a lot of traveling for high school kids who are expected to travel late nights and be at school the following day.”
One potential fix to this would be to have the higher seed host the first round games (something that many people provided as a solution), but with that are also potential issues that arise. In some cases, schools don’t want (or can’t host) games. Some fields don’t meet MSHSAA standards or are just not acceptable - especially after a long season of wear and tear. This is particularly true in the smaller classes where acceptable fields (and lights) aren’t always a possibility. This could also stretch an already thin official situation. It is certainly much easier for a district host to run a tournament in one location.
There are some other common sense ways around a situation like Blue Springs (and to an extent, Blue Springs South) had to endure. In Class 1, District 4, the 4 (Fatima) and 5 (Calvary Lutheran) seeds played at the Fatima on Monday, although Borgia was the host. This saved both teams an extra trip to Washington and likely could have been done in the Blue Springs situation as long as all the schools were in agreement. The statement in the MSHSAA soccer manual regarding district play states that “district tournaments shall be scheduled in accord with the committee’s best judgment.”
So, this leads to a bigger issue - that of administrators and committee members not communicating or looking out for the best interest of those involved. In that Borgia district, a plan was made to play the 4/5 game at a closer location and with only one game that night (5 team district), it likely worked out for the best. However, when looking at the rest of that scheduled tournament, the winner of the 4/5 game (Fatima) then played the next night at Borgia vs. #1 seed Tolton, a game that Tolton would win in OT. The championship game was then played the following day, where #2 (and host) Borgia upset Tolton. The real question here is why would a district soccer tournament be played out over three days when the state allows eight days to complete? If a committee decided that, it certainly didn’t seem to consider the well-being of the players (in theory, Fatima could have won the semi and had to play three consecutive nights with two of them being on the road) or the challenges/demands of the game. Instead, Tolton, as a 1 seed, was forced to travel back-to-back nights to Borgia, a nearly two hour trip. Smaller schools don’t have the luxury of many of the bigger schools of having large rosters, or in some cases, even a JV team to help with the physical demands of playing that many games in a short period. (The three games in one weekend regular tournament idea is another brutal one for players to endure, but that’s for another post.)
These situations weren’t limited to class 1 and 2. Class 3 Cape Notre Dame made three trips to Mehlville (1:45 on a bus) to play in that district, but at least that tournament started on a Saturday and spaced rest/preparation days in between before Thursday’s final. The reality is that the state is spread out for some and not for others and those in certain areas have to deal with extended travel and late nights. That’s just how it is. Those schools in the cities don’t deal with what those “out-state” do on a regular basis as often times 90 minute bus rides (one way) are the norm in mid-MO, SW, NW, etc.
The point to all of this is that while not necessarily the norm, soccer is often not treated appropriately with regards to what’s best for the players and the game by administrators, and occasionally by even the coaches. The reasons/causes are numerous. Poor communication, for one. (How many coaches had input or knowledge of their district tournament set up? If the answer is more than one, then there is a problem.)
Little or no understanding of the game’s demands and nuances by those with little experience, or in some cases, a lack of interest in the game also play a part. Playing 80 minutes of soccer is much different than 32 minutes of basketball, for example. Football doesn’t play more than one game in a week due to rest, recovery and preparation. To say that soccer players and coaches couldn’t benefit from those same kind of guidelines wouldn’t be accurate, especially if the goal is to have the best play at the end of the year, and not games decided by attrition.
One can look at the Class 4, District 3 tournament that SLUH hosted. It started on the first Saturday and ended on the final Saturday. Eight days to play three matches - all at a very high level. There is little doubt that John Burroughs benefitted from having a period of preparation and rest after upsetting Chaminade on Wednesday and then taking on SLUH Saturday. Regardless of who won that match, there is little doubt that the players from both teams were able to perform at a higher level than if they played the final on Thursday. Now that there is an entire week between districts and quarterfinals (and another six days after that until the finals), there is more time built in to play and likely should be explored at the next advisory board meeting, along with emphasizing to all coaches that a committee should decide what’s best for the games - and if that means Blue Springs and BSS play a final in Blue Springs instead of making a trip to Columbia, then that should be explored, as well.
Not every situation can be neatly fixed, but understanding the game’s demands and putting athletes in the best situations to succeed should not be the top priority. In truth, the finals weekend would be better served by semifinals on Thursday night, 3rd place matches (if at all ) on Friday and Finals on Saturday. Giving the players a rest day, while also giving the coaches a day to prepare for the biggest match of the year would make for a better championship environment and experience for everyone involved. This obviously comes with cost and logistics issues (hotels and time out of school) that could be looked at later, but if just looking at a more ideal scenario, this certainly serves the game and players better than the current model of playing the two biggest matches of the year in less than 24 hours.
A smaller, but still telling example, is the fact that many districts struggle with selecting or even having all district teams. A simple fix that needs to be done by the committee prior to the district even starting, but rarely is unless a coach is willing to spearhead it (and that’s not usually the case). It’s fine if the coaches don’t want to honor/have an all district team (all region and all state are decided by the coaches association), and as long as that is what is decided prior, then there are no issues. The problems occur when these things aren’t addressed by district hosts/committees and then attempted to be fixed after the district ends. Again, this isn’t always the case, but there have been several examples already this year of coaches and AD’s having problems with either selection or having one at all and ultimately it’s the athlete who is affected.
The bottom line is that administrators and coaches need to be the front line for advocating soccer and when those things don’t happen, for whatever the reason, the game suffers. It’s the hope of communications such as these that high school soccer in MO will continue to improve.
We are just a few short days from quarterfinal play - a huge Saturday ahead that at least looks mostly dry (and cool) for games. Tomorrow we will focus on those games and look into a little bit of how the games may unfold.