Finished Business: Eagles are state soccer champs

The Columbia soccer team poses with its state championship trophy Saturday night in Normal. (Jeremy Kovarik photo)

Since the beginning of summer practices, the Columbia soccer team’s motto has been “Unfinished Business,” as the Eagles sought to make up for last year’s postseason disappointment and achieve the championship glory that eluded them in 2013.

On Saturday night, Columbia finally accomplished their goal, using two second half goals to defeat Elmhurst Timothy Christian, winning the school’s first-ever state championship in soccer.

“We did it,” said an exhilarated senior Matthew Roderick. “We finished the business.”

“This is what we worked for all year—all our years,” added fellow senior Sam Harres.

The Eagles were confident coming into the game. They felt that if they continued to play as they had all postseason, they would come out on top. The game started off just as Columbia’s last several games had started: with the Eagles in control. CHS maintained possession early, using a crisp passing attack to work the ball into the box and create scoring opportunities. Pinned in their own box, the Trojans defense locked down, and the Timothy Christian keeper made some nice leaping saves to keep the Eagles at bay.

As the half continued, Timothy Christian began to gain some traction and showed they would not be pushed around. The Trojans used the sideline to create opportunities, and had several good looks on goal, but the CHS defense knocked the ball away and freshman goalie Jon Kuebler made the stops.

As the halftime buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read 0-0, and the teams headed into the locker room to regroup.

The Eagles came out more aggressive in the second half, and reasserted control of the game. CHS possessed the ball and pounded away at the goal. It seemed only a matter of time before they would score. Columbia’s moment finally came with 29 minutes remaining. Sean Rickey played a short corner kick into the box. The ball came back out to Rickey, who sent it back in with a low cross.

The ball found the foot of John Harrell, who tapped it home to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.

Rather than simply sitting back and trying to protect this lead, Columbia continued to attack. Barely a minute after taking the lead, the Eagles had another great chance, but the shot rattled off the post.

CHS continued to play the ball deep into the Timothy Christian zone, winning several corner kicks and generating quality scoring chances.

With 11 minutes remaining, Columbia got the back-breaking goal they were looking for. The title-clinching goal was almost an exact replica of the first score. Rickey played a low corner kick into the box. Eagles senior Ryan Gudeman flicked the ball toward the far post, where Harrell was waiting, once again, in the right place at the right time.

The junior defender, who scored just twice all season, booted it across for his second goal of the night. That was all Columbia would need. With a solid lead, the Eagles looked to their defense to close out the game.

Reliable all year, the back line came through once again, completely locking down the Timothy Christian attack.

When the final buzzer sounded, the blue-and-white-clad crowd erupted in a jubilant roar as the team poured out onto the field in celebration.

It was the perfect ending for the Eagles, one they will never forget.

“They worked so hard for this all year,” Eagles head coach Jason Mathenia said. “They deserve this.”

“This is the best feeling in the world,” Roderick added. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with any other group of guys.”

The Eagles will return home Sunday from Normal. The victors will be welcomed with a parade, which begins at 1:45 p.m. from Eagleview Elementary north on Main Street en route to Columbia High School, followed by a ceremony in the gym.

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