Emcee Steve Leftridge had one more question for men’s soccer coach Tim Cashel.
“Is there anything else you want to share with WGHS about the team going forward?”
Cashel stood facing a packed Roberts Gym for the Spirit Week pep rally as Leftridge interviewed him about the 2014 State championship, the team’s first in school history. This last question presented the potential for a very ambitious response.
“I have one word for you,” Cashel said. “Repeat!”
Cashel’s year-old prediction became a reality on Nov. 14, as the Statesmen defeated St. Dominic 3-2 at Soccer Park on senior Antoine Givens’ dramatic late goal. With the victory, Webster became the first public school ever to repeat as Missouri State champs in soccer.
This year, it took a wild weekend at State to capture a second straight title, a title which was still undecided all the way down to the last minute.
After going back and forth with St. Dominic in an intense championship game, the score was knotted up 2-2 with a minute to play. Webster had just missed an opportunity when senior Cam Oliver’s corner kick sailed out of bounds, landing on top of the goal. It appeared as though that would be the last scoring chance of regulation; extra time was a certainty.
Not for the Statesmen.
“I think the temptation at that point is to kick the ball in their box and hope something good happens,” Cashel said. “And if you watch what we were doing in the last minute of the game…. We were playing soccer. We had the ball on the ground; we were trying to create a scoring chance, not hope for a scoring chance.”
That scoring chance began when senior John Conley came up with the ball for Webster after a St. Dominic goal kick. A through-ball attempt to senior Sheriden Smith was blocked by a defender, but the ball bounced to Oliver on the right wing. Oliver played it to sophomore Jordan Andrews, who took it to the back line and made an impossible turn to keep the ball in bounds for an off-balance cross.
Givens, who had snuck to the back post unmarked, was there to finish the cross. His header bounced past the goalie’s desperate dive and into the top of the net with 39 seconds left. The rest is history.
“It was a very difficult cross, considering Jordan’s body position,” Cashel said. “He wasn’t really able to get his hips turned, but somehow he got it over the front post, over the goalkeeper, and Antoine was just sitting there waiting.”
“It was a really good cross from Jordan, and I knew I needed to get on the end of it since there wasn’t much time left in the match,” Givens said. “It meant the world to me, being able to have such a huge impact for a team like ours with some really great players and coaches.”
Givens turned and led the sprint to the other end of the field. He finally collapsed on his back in front of the bench, where he welcomed the dog-pile from his teammates.
“It was just a really euphoric moment for everyone at the game, and I was glad I was able to share it with teammates and fans,” Givens said.
“It was bedlam,” Cashel said.
The Goal marked the conclusion of a see-saw game, an unforgettable five-goal Final. Smith started the scoring in the 23rd minute, one-timing in a centering pass from Oliver on the ground.
With 3:59 left in the first half, a St. Dominic free kick from midfield took a slight deflection off senior Connor Flynn’s head, getting past Webster junior keeper Will Sprick to tie it 1-1.
Smith delivered again for Webster in the second half, burying an open chance in the box after a give-and-go with Andrews with 23:40 to play. It was Smith’s fifth goal in two days; his first-half hat trick against Helias Catholic in the semifinal was all Webster needed to get a 3-1 win.
“When I think of the (Helias) game, the image that comes to mind is Sheriden’s sharpness on the ball, and his movement, his penetrating runs,” Cashel said. “He was at the center of it all.”
Smith’s five goals tied an all-time record for most goals scored by a single player at the State Tournament. In four State Tournament games in his career, Smith scored seven times.
The two he scored in the Final still weren’t enough though, as St. Dominic tied it four minutes later at two, setting the stage for Givens’ late heroics, the culmination of a nail-biting final 20 minutes.
The Statesmen won this instant classic just a day after their 3-1 victory over Helias was overshadowed by the concussion suffered by senior forward Mitchell Paulson, part of a physical second half from which Webster escaped, gasping for breath.
After his head slammed into the ground during a collision, Paulson was helped off the field to the sideline, where he immediately collapsed. It was the fourth concussion he’s suffered, the second while playing high school soccer. He had to be carted off the field and taken to a local hospital after the game.
“The most difficult part of that game for me was managing the post-game,” Cashel said. “It was supposed to be a celebratory moment, but, you know, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like we lost, it was like the season was over. That was the mood among the boys.”
“I think the most important thing was to address the situation with Mitchell, to reassure the boys that Mitchell was gonna be okay,” Cashel said.
The team had a gathering at Cashel’s house that night to watch the U.S. National Team game. Paulson, who came to watch with the team after being released from the hospital, was in better condition, though he has dealt with memory loss from the day of the semifinal.
Paulson said after the injury, he had trouble remembering his name, what team he was on, what game it was, and later whether Webster had won.
“From noon to 10 p.m. that day, it’s all gone,” Paulson said. “John Binder told me that at the Cashels’ that night, I asked him who we were playing the next day four times.”
Paulson’s memory of the Final the next day is much better, though he did eat breakfast twice that morning. “Time is the only cure,” he said.
The physical and emotional toll taken on the Statesmen in the second half didn’t phase them in the Final though. Webster rallied around Paulson and its other 13 seniors, who made up the winningest class in the team’s history.
That special class got one last send-off from Cashel before the Final. “The last thing we did was everybody went around the room and thanked each other. Every player thanked every other player and coach for the experience we’ve given each other,” Cashel said. “There were tears in the room for sure.”
Cashel continued, “I don’t really think anyone felt any pressure in that game. I think they just felt excitement at being a team one more time.”
For this Webster team, the last time was the most special.