by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Eagles Boys Soccer team had reeled off four consecutive wins and a Class 3 District 8 title prior to meeting the Fort Zumwalt South Bulldogs on November 7th in the state tournament. The Bulldogs, who hail from the western side of suburban St. Louis, brought a 19-4 record and roster littered with All-State players to Moody Murray stadium.
A sun-kissed and windy afternoon with temperatures in the seventies provided the setting for the center kick at midfield by Grain Valley to start the game.
The first half saw the Eagles share equal possession of the soccer ball with the Bulldogs during the first six minutes of the game. Grain Valley sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Lampe repelled three Fort Zumwalt shots on goal prior to the Bulldogs finding net by junior midfielder Karson Gibbs 8 minutes into the game. This would be the first of two goals by Gibbs on the afternoon that helped his team secure a 4-0 win over the Eagles.
The five seniors on the Eagles roster demonstrated a determined effort during the second half that saw Grain Valley tie Fort Zumwalt with shots on goal at 16 apiece. Forwards Pierson Jaynes and Alex Engram joined defensemen JR Brown, Nathan Manning, and Colby Siems in increasing offensive chances for the Eagles on the Bulldogs side of the field.
Grain Valley would come up just inches short on three occasions of putting the ball in the net during the second half. A header attempt off a corner kick would narrowly sail over the crossbar and the outstretched fingertips of Bulldogs goalkeeper Luke Dillon 24 minutes into the second half.
Junior defender Gage Levell would lead the next offensive charge for the Eagles. The result would be a diving save by the Bulldogs 34 minutes into the second half. Grain Valley would launch their final assault on goal one minute later with a kick that would be punched away only to have the subsequent header miss as well before being covered up in the goal box.
Lampe would also provide five additional saves in the second half, including a diving stop across his body and a wrestling save where the ball was secured off of the foot of an oncoming Bulldog player before the shot on goal could be completed. The effort by Lampe drew praise from the coaching staff and players on the Eagles bench. The culmination of Lampe’s efforts kept the game within striking distance for Grain Valley during much of the game.
During the Eagles postgame team meeting, head soccer coach Brett Lewis encouraged each member of the team to find a senior afterwards and thank them for their play and the leadership provided, as it would be there last time playing on Moody Murray field during their high school career. The breakdown with the Eagles yelling “family” on three was followed by teary eyed hugs and handshakes.
The quintet of Grain Valley seniors posed one last time for a postgame picture prior to sharing their thoughts on their final game and high school career.
“We helped to continue on the positive culture that is Grain Valley soccer. I am proud of that,” Engram said.
Brown added, “This program is more than about winning and losing. We are encouraged by our coaches to do the right things on and off the field. These last four years have been a pleasure for me,”
Manning agreed, “We had a goal to get as far as possible in State (the playoffs). However, Coach Lewis has pushed us to be better men and caring about our reputation off the field as much as winning. That’s 100 percent (true).”
“This journey has been about the brotherhood that exists in and out of this huddle,” Siems said.
Jaynes concluded, “This family is just starting for us and it will continue on through our lives.”
“I would like to redo that first half. We came off a little sleepy. We left it all out there after that, and that’s all you can ask at the end of the day.
Grain Valley’s offensive growth sprouted towards the end of the season. Evidence of this can be found in the 23 goals the team scored through their first sixteen games, good for 1.4 goals a game. The last five games of the season against Fort Osage, Truman, Warrensburg, Sacred Heart, and Fort Zumwalt South witnessed the Eagles score 17 goals in five games, good for a 3.4 goal a game average.
Grain Valley finishes the season with a 9-12 overall record.
Lewis was proud of his team’s offensive growth as well as the contributions from his senior class as he reflected on his first year at the helm for the Eagles.
“Growth, man, is where it was at for us. We are a different team now then we were at the beginning of the season. Our best soccer was played down the stretch,” Lewis said.
“There were times this season when we could’ve thrown in the towel and said our season is over. This team came to practice every day with the desire to get better and we found ways to overcome some of the deficiencies we had at the beginning of the season.”
“That is a testament to our season and the way they conducted themselves.”
Lewis continued, “The first half we were playing them and the wind (with it against us). We were deficient on shots and had to grind it out in getting to half time. Obviously, we didn’t want to give away two goals early on.”
“The way we responded in the second half, I thought we deserved to score one or two goals with the chances we created. The guys responded well and I’m proud of their efforts in the opportunities we created with the wind at our backs.”
“I couldn't have asked for a better group of seniors to start my head coaching here with. It will be tough to lose them, but they led by example and persisted through tough times. I sense they will have success as they progress through life.”
Above: Colby Siems is first to the ball and heads it in the Eagles direction.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
Above: Eagles Goalkeeper Ryan Lampe makes a successful save.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
Grain Valley Eagles Seniors (L to R): Pierson Jaynes, Colby Siems, Alex Engram, Nathan Manning, and JR Brown.
Photo credit: Valley News staff