The Van Horn boys soccer team has really made a name for itself the past three seasons.
The Falcons have accumulated a combined 69-10-1 record in those years and made the Class 3 state final four for the first time in program history in 2018.
They have grabbed the attention of coaches not only in Missouri, but in Kansas, as well. That’s why the Falcons have been able to add larger and more competitive teams to their schedule. That was the initiative for head coach Jesus Rodriguez, who wants his team to see the best competition it can so it can be well prepared for the playoffs.
That actually started on the weekend of July 19 as the Falcons participated in an offseason tournament that featured some of the best high school teams from Missouri and Kansas. Rodriguez received the invitation to the tournament from St. Thomas Aquinas because of the recent success of his squad.
“I thought we saw some strong competition,” Rodriguez said. “It was good to see our guys improve from last season. Some guys from our final four team have gotten taller and stronger. They showed it in that tournament.
“I don’t think other teams were ready to see Van Horn play at that level. We never get to play those big schools from Kansas and it was nice to have that opportunity.”
Van Horn played Kansas powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, which has won 16 state championships in its 30-year history, in the first round. The Falcons lost 2-0, but played the Saints tough, Rodriguez said.
“We defended restarts and corner kicks really well,’ he added. “The two goals they scored are something we need to work on. They both came on free kicks. They kicked it over our wall and scored. That’s rare. That doesn’t happen all the time.”
In the consolation semifinals, Van Horn bounced back to take down Manhattan (Kan.), the Kansas Class 6A state runner-up last year, 5-1 in a dominant effort.
“Some of the Park Hill players were asking us about our game against Manhattan,” Rodriguez said. “They played in the finals against Olathe East last year and lost. When we told them the score, they were surprised. They were like, ‘What? You beat them 5-1?’”
The Falcons then took fifth-place after defeated Park Hill, a Class 4 team, 2-0.
“We dominated that game,” Rodriguez said. “We possessed the majority of the time. They were a great team, but we were better.”
Overall, the tournament was a success in the eyes of Rodriguez. The Falcons won two games despite missing three starters from last year’s final four team – Joxel Figueroa, Kobe Otano and Julio Rios.
“I am a little worried about the injuries we have,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if they are going to be serious or what’s going to happen. We have to rehab those kids throughout the season to make sure they don’t get hurt.”
This fall, Rodriguez is continuing his initiative of scheduling more difficult teams. Last year, he scheduled highly-successful programs like Harrisonville, Guadalupe Centers Charter and Blue Springs South in the regular season. This year, the Falcons added traditional state power St. Louis University High School.
“It’s been three seasons in a row that we had 19 or more wins in a season,” Rodriguez. “We only lost 10 games in the last three years. That says a lot about the program and the guys are getting respect and recognition at the state level.
“St. Louis (U. High) emailed us and wanted to schedule a game. I don’t know if the coach saw us play or what. But it’s a nice gesture that all of the schools in the Kansas City area, they picked Blue Valley Northwest and us. I am excited for September 27 (the day Van Horn plays SLUH).
“They have players from all over the place. I am excited to see how we do against them. They are a team like Rockhurst; they are always going to be good.”
All-state Falcons midfielder Angel DeAvila said playing strong teams like SLUH benefits his squad.
“Adding all these teams is going to give us better opportunity for the season,” DeAvila said. “As we progress through each game, it’s going to push us to the goal we want to reach. We want to win state.”