Van Horn boys soccer coach Jesus Rodriguez remembers what the overall mood was like on the bus ride to Kansas City East High School for last year’s Class 3 District 15 championship game.
All of his players were quiet, too quiet. Rodriguez later found out they were nervous because they were playing a team that defeated them a year earlier in the district final. The Falcons lost last year’s game 3-1 after an undefeated regular season.
Fast forward to the 2018 season, and the attitude of the players is much different.
The Falcons (24-2) got over the hump and defeated Grain Valley 4-1 last week in the district title match. Tuesday, the Falcons advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2014 after a 3-2 win over Kearney in the Class 3 sectional round.
The bus ride to Kearney and back was much more jubilant than last year.
“(Tuesday), the guys got off the bus singing,” Rodriguez said. “They had that big speaker playing music on the bus. It was definitely a different atmosphere.”
The Falcons are one win away from going to the state final four for the first time in the program’s history. They play at 5 p.m. Saturday at home against Jefferson City Helias Catholic, which defeated Harrisonville 4-3 in its sectional.
“I think we’re 25-1 at home in the last two years,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a comfort knowing that we have home field advantage and that we don’t lose a lot.”
On Thursday, most of the Falcons left practice around 5 p.m. with the temperatures in the low 30s and snow flurries raining down on the field. There were two players who stayed behind to work on their game while withstanding the frigid conditions – senior defender Brian Parra and junior midfielder Angel DeAvila.
“It’s a good feeling, because you know their hungry,” Rodriguez said. “We never know what’s going to happen Saturday, whether it’s going to be cold, if it’s going to rain or if it’s going to snow.
“It’s important for us to come out and practice in this weather even if it’s only for 30 or 45 minutes.”
Parra said the work ethic of the team is better than previous years.
“You see the guys working way harder than they used to,” Parra said. “We got more serious. We have a lot of motivation. I am working on my touch because the last game I wasn’t doing that good on the touch. I decided to stay and work on that.”
Parra wants to help the defense stop a Helias team that has averaged close to three goals per game.
“They like to play through balls, so we are going to have to communicate when they make their runs,” Parra said. “We watched film on them, and they seem a little faster (than Kearney).”
And that will be a big factor Saturday.
“They take restarts and throw-ins fast,” Rodriguez said of the Crusaders. “They are kind of like St. Michael in that aspect. We got caught off guard when St. Michael did that. They will throw it to the other side of the field, so we kick it out of bounds at the 20 (yard line), then they treat that like a corner kick.”
It will help Van Horn’s cause that its ability to keep possession has steadily improved.
“We’ve kept the ball more efficiently and a lot better these past couple of games,” DeAvila said. “To get further, we we have to keep doing that.”