The Rolla soccer team (11-2) hosted their home tournament on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22-23. The Bulldogs played three games against Columbia Battle, Ozark and Southern Boone, winning all three games to take first place in the tournament.
Rolla started the weekend with a matchup against Battle on Friday. The Bulldogs took a little while to get on the board, but they dominated the game from jump street. Rolla controlled the game from the beginning with scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity, but they couldn't find the back of the net. After a free kick near the top of the keeper zone missed, Jarret Gabriele had a chance for a penalty kick in the seventh minute. He fired the shot high to keep Rolla scoreless. A minute later, Evan Moore just missed wide on a shot. Rolla had a few corner kicks early, but couldn't convert on the chances.
The Bulldogs finally got on the board in the 31st minute on a goal by Carson Arnold and that opened the floodgates. Rolla went into the half with a 1-0 lead, but they added three unanswered goals in the second half to cruise to a 4-0 win. Arnold added a second goal in the second half, while Joel Schott and Bradley Shelton each added one. Gabriele, Nick Janke and Arnold all chipped in with an assist.
The tightest game of the tournament came against Ozark, which was also played on Friday. Rolla got out to a 1-0 lead early and maintained it for most of the game. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs were called for a penalty in the box with 10 minutes and the Tigers were able to convert to tie the game. Credit to the Bulldogs, after allowing the PK, they buckled down and scored with three minutes left to play to seal the victory. Jayson Ross and Janke scored Rolla's two goals in the 2-1 win, both coming on assists from Arnold.
"I was really proud of our win on Friday night late," said head coach Mike Howard. "And Ozark has beaten some very good teams this year."
Rolla had one more game to play in the tournament on Saturday morning when they faced off against Southern Boone. The Bulldogs were tired, but they took care of business early. Gabriele scored twice in the game's opening 15 minutes, but Sourthern Boone added a goal of their own in the 20th minute. Rolla had the opportunity to respond in the 22nd minute on a corner, as Nick Janke found the cross and bounced a header into the net to push the lead to 3-1.
After that, the game was pretty quiet. Rolla tried to sub as much as they could, which is atypical, just to keep players as fresh as they could. With three games in high temperatures, both teams were just trying to fight through the sweat to finish the tournament off. Rolla made a few mistakes with their mix of exhaustion and subs, but none of them were costly until the 78th minute, when Southern Boone scored to keep things interesting. Rolla managed to hold on to their 3-2 lead for the final two minutes to win the match and the tournament.
"It's a lot of games in a short amount of time. None of these teams are bad, I mean, tough games. Southern Boone is always a difficult game for us here and they were just as tired as we were," said coach Howard after the final game. "It got pretty ugly there at the end for both teams, but good for our kids to hang in there and get a result."
This has been a huge week of soccer for the Bulldogs. After winning the Parkway Tournament last week and beating Helias on Wednesday, Rolla pulled out three more wins over the weekend. The Bulldogs managed to go undefeated through a series of tough games and have now strung together eight in a row.
"That's eight wins in a row against some pretty good team in a short amount of time. I like what we're seeing," said coach Howard. "Jacob Lorts got hurt there at the end (against Southern Boone) and Caleb Dobry came in and did a good job, that's what we need. To go out there and keep that level of play up. They've really been doing it as a team."
This year's tournament slate is off to a great start. Last season, Rolla was winless in the Parkway Tournament and went 1-0-2 in the Rolla Invitational. Now they've gone 3-0 in each of those tournaments and coach Howard likes what he's seen.
"Last year we won one game in this tournament, this year we won all three. The Parkway Tournament, we didn't win any games last year, we won all three," said the Rolla head coach. "I really like where we're at right now, but it's just a start. We're maybe halfway through the season, we've just gotta keep getting better. I think when we get some rest, we've got another game Monday at Waynesville, but then we get to slow down a little bit and I think that'll help us a lot."
The Bulldogs did face off against Waynesville on Monday, but results were not available at press time. After that, they'll host Hillcrest on Wednesday, Sept. 27 and be off for the remainder of the week.