The Rolla soccer team (11-8) hosted the Thomas Whitefield Games over the weekend, playing a pair of teams who played in the Final Four last season. The Bulldogs opened their weekend with a 3-1 win over Harrisonville, before falling 2-1 to the defending Class 3 State Champion Parkway Central Colts.
The Bulldogs were without two key players over the weekend, as Carson Arnold and Evan Moore were both sidelined. That didn't slow down the Rolla offense when they faced off against Harrisonville on Friday. The Bulldogs controlled the pace of play throughout the game and kicked things off with a goal off the foot of Jarret Gabriele in the 22nd minute. The goal was assisted by Quincy Cummings, who was making his varsity debut in the contest. Harrisonville responded with a goal of their own in the 33rd minute, tying the score at 1-1 at the half.
The second half was all Rolla. Mohammad Alamaldien needed just four minutes into the half to give Rolla the lead for good with an unassisted goal. The Bulldogs padded that lead three minutes later on another goal from Gabriele, which was assisted by Adeem Massri. Rolla finished off the game for a 3-1 win.
The Bulldogs started the second game of the weekend by celebrating Massri for his Senior Spotlight. What followed was a tough contest that saw no scoring for most of the opening half. Rolla had a few scoring chances in the first half, but couldn't connect for a goal. They were able to slow down Parkway Central thanks to a couple of solid plays in goal by Erique Cezar, but the Colts were able to break through just before halftime. Central had a free kick just outside the keeper zone with three minutes left to play and were able to connect for the first goal of the game, taking a 1-0 lead into the half.
Rolla then honored the 1993 team at halftime. 25 years ago, that unit made it to the Final Four in Mike Howard's third year as head coach. A pair of All-State Honorable Mentions from that year's team, Jon Kwantes and Ryan Guffey, were on hand for the celebration.
"That was 25 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday," said Howard of coaching that Final Four team. "Jon Kwantes and Ryan Guffey were both All-Staters for us and I stay in contact with them. I talk to Jon a lot, especially. That was fun, they're great kids. I'm looking forward to seeing them this afternoon (in the Alumni game) and hanging out with them."
The second half then mirrored the first, as both teams were held in a stalemate until Central had another restart late in the half. With four minutes left to play, the Colts scored on a corner kick to extend their lead to 2-0. Rolla was able to score on a restart of their own just before the end of the game. Gabe Stanislawski lined up for a free kick and found Massri running free on the right side of the box. Massri was able to connect for the goal in his Senior Spotlight game, but Rolla ran out of time in a 2-1 loss. Coach Howard was glad to see Massri get that late goal, as he's made a big impact on the Rolla soccer program the last few seasons.
"First of all, he's a wonderful kid. He's so much fun to be around, has a positive attitude, he works hard," said the Rolla head coach. "We took him from a defensive position this year and moved him out wide and it's really helped us a ton. He's had a great career for us, I love that kid."
While Rolla wasn't able to pull out the win over Central on Saturday, coach Howard was thrilled with how his team performed over the weekend. The Bulldogs have had a long stretch with tournaments in each of the last three weekends and were without two starters, but still managed to grind out two great games against two teams that played in the Final Four last season.
"I doubt I could be much prouder," said coach Howard. "They're giving everything they have, they're dog-tired, they're beat up...I'm very pleased with their effort. Only positives to take away from the weekend. We played two great teams. We won one and we were in both games. I'm thrilled with where we're at right now."
The Bulldogs had several younger players step up and see extended playing time over the weekend. On top of Cummings making his debut, a number of guys who typically play at the JV level or in limited bench roles had to face off against some quality opponents at the varsity level and played well.
"Those younger players, those JV kids came in and did well. I'm proud of them," said the Rolla head coach. "For a freshman to come in and play against the defending State Champs and hold their own, they did okay."
Rolla can finally pump the breaks a little bit now after a long stretch of games, as they have just two games this coming week. They'll host Lebanon on Monday, before a trip to Springfield Central on Thursday.
"It's been a really tough I think 15 game stretch. Now we've got a few days off, we only have two games next week. That's like a vacation for these guys," said coach Howard. "Like I told the guys at halftime, we just have to grind this out and we'll be okay when the postseason rolls around."