Before Thursday’s Class 3 District 15 championship game against Grain Valley, Van Horn head boys soccer coach Jesus Rodriguez had a reminder for his team.
He grabbed the second-place trophy for districts – the same trophy that the Falcons received the past two seasons after losing to Kansas City East in the district championship – and showed it to his players.
“I told them it was useless,” Rodriguez said of the second-place plaque. “I said that it was something that I would put under the tires of my car when I am changing my oil. We worked too hard in the weight room and on the field to get this again.”
The Falcons didn’t.
Thanks to goals from four different players, Van Horn earned its first district championship since 2014 with a 4-1 win against Grain Valley at home.
The Falcons advance to Tuesday’s sectional playoff against Kearney, which defeated Smithville 2-0 for the District 16 title.
Van Horn activities director Chris Corrie handed Rodriguez the first-place plaque and the coach jumped up and down with it while waving it above his head. He then handed it to Edison Rios and his teammates gathered around him and hopped up and down while cheering for their breakthrough win.
A couple of minutes later, a few players grabbed a water cooler and dumped the remains on Rodriguez.
“I told them not to do that because it was too cold,” Van Horn senior midfielder Raynalso Jean-Pierre said of the 45-degree night, “but they did it anyway.”
Added Rodriguez: “I am so cold! My feet are numb!”
Although, he later admitted the water bath felt better than it normally would have thanks to winning his first district championship at Van Horn. It wouldn’t have been possible without Rodriguez’s all-state junior midfielder Angel DeAvila.
He blasted a shot past Grain Valley goalkeeper Bryant Madden from 15 yards out to make 1-0 in the third minute. Shortly after that goal, DeAvila fired a shot from just outside the box that was knocked away by a diving Madden. After it bounced off the left goalpost, Jean-Pierre made a run toward the goal line and buried the rebound for a 2-0 advantage.
In the 20th minute, DeAvila blasted another shot that was saved by Madden, this time off the right post. Freshman Kobe Otano was there to put in the rebound for a commanding 3-0 lead.
“We’ve had games in the past where we didn’t follow our shots,” Jean-Pierre said. “But we did today.”
Added Rodriguez: “I scream at the guys to do that more. Follow the shot. They aren’t the prettiest goals. They are gritty goals. You have to have those when they are available.”
Grain Valley junior midfielder Jack Knust received a penalty kick after Van Horn committed a foul in the penalty box. He buried the shot to narrow the gap to 3-1 in the 39th minute.
In the second half, Grain Valley (8-10-2) was about equal in time of possession with Van Horn after being dominated in that area in the first 40 minutes. The Eagles had four shots on goal in the second half, but all were saved by Falcons goalkeeper Cooper Sumpter, including a breakaway attempt for junior forward Nate Booker.
“We made a couple of mental mistakes in the first half, and going down 3-0 definitely isn’t ideal,” Grain Valley coach Tyler Nichol said. “Our backs weren’t there to defend their forwards on those rebounds, and it cost us. We had some shots that their keeper saved we could have followed, but didn’t. That was the difference.”
Rios capped the scoring with a breakaway goal in the 75th minute.
Now that the Falcons (23-2) have cleared one giant hurdle, they turn their attention to the Bulldogs.
“Everyone is full of adrenaline,” DeAvila said. “Everyone is happy. I can’t wait to see how much further we go. We have to keep going. We’re hungry.”