Last season, Grain Valley boys soccer coach Tyler Nichol rarely expected his team to score a lot.
After all, the Eagles played a defensive style of soccer in 2018 and often had to depend on keeping the game to a low-scoring affair in order to have a chance to win.
This year is different. Grain Valley is playing a more offensively minded, possession style and scoring three or more goals is no longer uncommon. In fact, the Eagles reached or exceeded that mark for the fourth time this season as they rolled to a 3-0 win over Suburban Small Seven rival Kearney Thursday.
“Effort and hustle, definitely,” Grain Valley senior Jack Knust said of the difference between the two games against Kearney last season and the win this season. “The intensity was there tonight. We scored three goals because of effort.”
It was Grain Valley’s first win against the Bulldogs since 2017 and its first since joining the Suburban Conference last season.
“Last year left a bitter taste in our mouth,” junior Pierson Jaynes said. “This year, we were to fight.”
It certainly looked like it on the field as the Eagles outshot Kearney 19-4, including 12-3 on goal. It was just pure domination as Grain Valley’s physical, aggressive style overwhelmed the Bulldogs.
“Our defenders are more confident this year, and we don’t need to sit back,” Knust said. “We have the offensive players to get up.”
Knust led the way for the Eagles (4-1-1, 2-1 Small Seven) with two goals. His first came in the seventh minute when he received a corner kick from junior defender JR Brown and blasted a short-range kick off the hands of the diving Tyler Snapp for a score.
In the 51st minute, Knust scored on a penalty kick after faking the shot to his left and nailing it inside the right post.
“Jack can take players off the dribble and create for himself,” Nichol said. “He’s just a fantastic player. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He probably works harder than any other player we’ve ever had in our program.”
Grain Valley’s other goal came one somewhat of a fluky play. A loose ball bounced past two Kearney defenders and the goalie, and Jaynes snuck in and scored an empty-netter with 4:22 left in the first half.
“It felt great to get another goal on the sheets,” Jaynes said. “It was my second goal of the year.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Eagles’ win was overcoming some adversity. With Grain Valley holding a 1-0 lead in the first half, sophomore Micah Sams and Snapp collided inside the 18-yard box. Sams ended up punching a goal inside the left post. It was initially ruled a goal until the officials had a conference and ended up taking away the goal after ruling that Sams interfered with the goalkeeper collecting the ball, much to the chagrin of Nichol.
Even after losing a goal, the Eagles kept their composure.
“We kept pressing and it kind of evened itself out,” Nichol said. “We got lucky probably on our second goal. We could have been more clinical and score two or three more goals. The energy we brought was a good sign. We dominated possession from the opening whistle to the final whistle.”