Houf, Kramme, Parks, Short leave Orlando in first place.
Special to the Daily News
ORLANDO, Fla. - Four Rolla soccer players returned from Christmas break as champions of the Disney Soccer Showcase Premier Red U18/19 Division.
The tournament was held December 27-30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. The Disney Showcase is the top-rated youth soccer tournament in the United States. It is only open to State Cup or higher level teams and gives athletes a chance to shine on the one of the biggest stages set for youth soccer in this country.
Logan Houf, Nathan Kramme, Austin Parks and Hunter Short - all members of the 2013 Rolla High School boys' soccer team - play on the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Green 95/96 team. The team was second in the Missouri State Cup in June, 2013 which made them eligible to play in this tournament.
Going in, team captain Nate Kramme said "Our expectations were pretty low. We just wanted to compete well and have fun playing in Florida. We'd have been happy to win one game against this high level of competition."
Teams ranked 125th to 17th in the nation, from Florida, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, New York and South Carolina competed against the Rolla players. At the start of the tournament, SLSG Green was ranked 177th in the nation.
Rolla player Hunter Short scored one of the three goals as the team won its first game 3-1. However, one of the leading scorers on the team broke his foot during the game and was unable to play the rest of the tournament. The team was also without high-scoring Rolla teammate Aaron Froehlich, who was back at home playing basketball in the US Bank Holiday Invitational in Rolla.
The second game was against a Baltimore, Maryland team ranked 17th in the nation. With less than 2 minutes to go in the game, Baltimore scored.
As regulation time ran out and the game went into stoppage time, SLSG player Kaleb Jackson, of Desmet Jesuit High School, beat two defenders and scored to end the game in a 1-1 tie.
By now, the boys and coaches had revised their expectations, and felt they had a chance to go to the championship game.
Midfielder Logan Houf said, "The first two games we played just for fun. But after the second game was over, we realized we had a pretty good chance to get into the championship game. So we started playing for real."
The third game against a New York team was another nail-biter; tied 0-0, until with two minutes left, Jackson beat the defenders and scored. New York brought their keeper out of goal to attempt to score on a corner kick, but SLSG cleared the ball to Jackson, who sealed the deal with a second breakaway goal and a 2-0 win for SLSG Green. That put the team into the Championship game on Monday.
The opponent was Pachuca FC Dragons 95 from Maryland. And again the competition was fierce. Both teams had several opportunities to score, but due to quick distribution by midfielder Logan Houf and tenacious defense by Nate Kramme and Austin Parks, the score was 0-0 with the clock ticking down. With under two minutes in regulation time, Kaleb Jackson received the ball, beat two defenders, and sent it past the keeper into the back of the net. That turned out to be the winning goal for SLSG Green in the 1-0 game.
With three wins over teams ranked well above them, and championship of the prestigious Disney Soccer Showcase, SLSG Green 95/96 is now ranked 51st in the nation.
The team will play several more league games and tournaments this winter and spring and is looking forward to another try at the State Cup in June.
Coach Steve Walters said of the Rolla players, "These boys are as skilled as any players in St. Louis and we couldn't be more proud of them. They are as mentally tough as they are physically skilled. Their efforts enabled us to win this tournament against very difficult opponents."
"Everyone on the team has worked hard over the past several years to get to this point, and no one has worked harder than the Rolla players," added Coach Tom Potzman. "These boys deserved to win this Championship - they are that good."
The Championship game was televised on ESPN3 Friday, January 3 at 11:30 am. In addition, the entire team was recognized for their accomplishment at the St. Louis Ambush professional indoor soccer game Friday night, January 3, 2014.