Young Rock Bridge squad starts over after disappointing ’09 finish.
By Steve Walentik
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Last fall, it seemed Kyle Austin had found a formula that would propel the Rock Bridge boys soccer team back into the state playoffs for the first time since 2004.
After finishing with a losing record in back-to-back years, Austin’s Bruins went 13-8 during the regular season and earned the top seed in the Class 3 District 9 Tournament. With Jefferson City — a team it had already beaten — standing as the top threat to its supremacy, the coach’s senior-laden squad appeared a strong favorite to claim a title.
But Rock Bridge never got the chance to face the Jays again after getting blanked by crosstown rival Hickman 1-0 in the district semifinal, bringing a promising season to an unceremonious end.
After bidding farewell to that large senior class — of which eight members were starters — Austin is starting over as he tries to come up with another equation that will yield a different result in his third season on the sideline.
“We’re experimenting,” said Austin, who only has seven holdovers from last year and is molding a roster heavy on sophomores and juniors.
Three weeks into practice and through a weekend’s worth of games — the Bruins went 1-2 in the Midwest Soccer Classic on Friday and Saturday in Quincy, Ill. — it’s hard to make any definitive judgments about what the team might accomplish.
“Sometimes we look really solid up front. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we look solid in the back,” said Austin, whose team begins its home schedule at 6:30 tonight against Rolla. “We’re moving some players around. … It’s a little early to tell just where we stand.”
That’s especially true because Rock Bridge has yet to have its full complement of players on the field and healthy. Senior defender Patrick Knutson is still working his way back after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Junior Austin Powell is mending multiple torn ligaments in his ankle, an injury he suffered last spring. Senior midfielder Ryan Taylor broke a toe during tryouts and was only cleared to resume activities again yesterday. Tyler Brittain is nursing a back injury, as is junior Matt Kelly since Saturday morning.
Austin has tried to see the bright side, acknowledging that those injuries have created opportunities for less-established players to gain additional experience he hopes will pay off this fall and into next, but the fact remains the Bruins, not blessed with an abundance of size or raw speed, are counting on those players to be significant contributors.
Kelly, beginning his third season on the varsity roster, at least got to play in his team’s three games — a 2-1 loss to Quincy, a 4-1 loss to Collinsville and a 1-0 victory over Kirksville — over the weekend, and he produced, putting in all three Bruins goals, including a game-winner against the Tigers with less than five minutes remaining after they’d already fired some 30 shots in the direction of the net.
“Since Day One of tryouts this year, he’s stood out as … for sure, our best offensive player,” Austin said. “He goes at people. He attacks them, and I think he’s primed for a really, really solid season if we can keep him healthy.”
Austin also has high hopes for what Taylor can provide when teaming with senior Danny Baird, a returning starter, in the center of the Rock Bridge midfield.
“He’s probably one of our most technical players, and the biggest thing he brings to the field is his leadership,” the coach said. “He organizes really well on the field, and the kids respect him and look up to him. He’s one of our senior captains. He kind of sets the tone for us, and we just need him out on the field as much as possible.”
The Bruins are optimistic about what they can do — perhaps even winning that elusive district title — so long as they continue to shore up deficiencies such as the defensive breakdowns that allowed a pair of late scores when trying to rally against Collinsville and failing to capitalize on all those chances against Kirksville.
“Coming into the season, we figured it was going to be a rough start because we’re so young and small,” said senior goalkeeper Brady Wulff, who is starting in the net for the second straight year. “Overall, I’d say our goal is like halfway through the season to get to our maximum potential and then carry that throughout the rest of the season.”
It would be better if Rock Bridge reached that point by Sept. 20, when it begins play in the top division of the CYC Tournament against a field filled with elite teams from St. Louis. Austin will surely have a better understanding of what his team is capable of after those tests