As the weather finally starts to cool over the coming weeks, birds will begin to fly south for the winter. The Columbia Eagles, however, are headed north.
For the first time since 2010, the Columbia soccer team is state-bound. The Eagles will make the trip to the “Corn Crib” in Bloomington-Normal this weekend after crushing Springfield Lutheran, 5-0, in Tuesday’s Collinsville Super-Sectional.
“It’s unbelievable,” said senior forward Matthew Roderick. “This is what we’ve been preparing for all year—from the start of summer practices all the way to here.”
Eagles head coach Jason Mathenia was equally pleased. After being eliminated by eventual state champion Gibault last season, the team’s mantra for 2014 became “Unfinished Business.” Now, the Eagles are just two victories away from achieving that goal.
“We’re two games away,” Mathenia said. “I’ve been telling the boys how special it is all season long. We did a great job tonight.”
The game seemed to be over before it began, as Columbia was in control from the start. It was Roderick who got the Eagles on the board first, and the All-State forward did it in style, blasting an unstoppable free kick from just outside the box into the top corner in the eleventh minute.
The Crusaders could barely blink an eye before Roderick struck again just two minutes later. The play started with a pass that gave Columbia’s Scott Gannon an open look on goal. Gannon’s shot was saved by the Lutheran keeper, but Roderick was there for the rebound to give his team a 2-0 lead.
“We’ve been waiting for him to get on fire,” Mathenia said of Roderick. “He’s been double- and triple-teamed all postseason. For him to get two goals tonight in a super-sectional game is just amazing.”
Roderick wasn’t concerned with statistics. The senior was just happy to give his team the early spark.
“Score early and score often—that’s been our motto this postseason,” he said. “We want to get up on them early and keep it going.”
And that’s just what Columbia did. Despite a two-goal lead—and a solid defense to hold it—the Eagles were not satisfied. Looking to extend their lead, Columbia continued to pound away. CHS was relentless, bombarding the Crusaders with shots, and keeping the Lutheran goalie on his toes all night. Five minutes after Roderick’s second goal, Columbia’s Sean Rickey had a great chance, but was robbed on a wonderful save by the goalkeeper. An Eagle got a head on the ensuing corner, but the ball was cleared off the line by a Crusader defender.
But Columbia would not be undone by a few missed opportunities. The offensive onslaught continued, and with 10 minutes left in the first half, the Eagles found the net again. A Rickey free kick caromed around the box, and Lutheran could not clear it. Junior midfielder Adam Becker took advantage, curling a pretty shot into the roof of the net to give his team a 3-0 lead they would take into halftime.
Columbia’s dominance carried into the second half, as the Eagles continued to dictate the pace of the game. Once again, CHS controlled possession, and most of the action took place in the Lutheran box. Cameron Roth scored on a breakaway with 12 minutes left, and four minutes later, Owen Lammert made it 5-0 with a bullet into the far right corner.
Columbia’s defense put together another outstanding performance. Lutheran was unable to hold the ball for long, and the Crusaders never had a chance to get past the Eagles’ stingy back line, which has been one of the biggest assets for Columbia this postseason. Outside of last week’s wild sectional semifinal game against Anna-Jonesboro, in which CHS gave up three goals, the Eagles’ defense has been impenetrable, posting four shutouts. Mathenia had nothing but praise for his dependable defenders.
“Our defense is pretty good,” he said. “It’s been that way all year.”
Columbia will play Herscher in Friday’s state semifinal game. Herscher is the defending Class 1A runner-up, having lost 2-1 to Gibault in last year’s state title game. Despite being unchallenged in the last two games, Mathenia says his team is focused and ready for tougher competition.
“These guys know what they’re capable of doing,” he said. “The guys have done what they are supposed to do to prepare for these last games, and they’ll be ready for Friday, too.”
(For photos from Saturday’s sectional title-winning game, click here.)