After a season of stellar performance, the St. Mary’s Academy Crusaders lost to their main conference rivals from Wichita in the state championship tournament on Saturday, October 20, placing second in the Kansas Christian Athletic Association (KCAA) for the 2018 soccer season.
The Crusaders hosted the KCAA state tournament at Riverside Park where they played against the Mule Skinners from St. John’s Military Academy and the Warriors from the Wichita Area Homeschool Athletic Association (WAHAA).
The Crusaders had defeated the Mule Skinners twice this season, with scores of 8-0 and 6-0, and shut them out again in the tournament, winning 5-0. The team had also beaten the Warriors earlier in October, 4-0, but the Warriors took the championship, defeating the home-team 1-0.
“That loss still stings a bit,” Coach Eric Varnado said, “but it shouldn’t overshadow the whole season, which was truly excellent outside of that one game.” With fourteen victories and only four losses, “It was a very good season overall,” according to Coach Varnado.
“We played a pretty tough schedule, including three games against 6A schools and three against 5A schools. This is our best record since boosting the quality of our schedule. I don’t know if this was our best team ever, but I would say it was our best season because of the competition we faced, even though we did not win the tournament.”
Their first two games, both against outstanding non-conference teams, the 5A Emporia Spartans and the 6A Leavenworth Pioneers, ended in defeats. Following those losses, the Crusaders surged ahead on a twelve-game winning streak against such teams as the Tonganoxie Chieftains, Highland Park Scots, and Junction City Blue Jays. A third loss came late in the season when the Crusaders played Emporia again. The fourth and final defeat came in the last game in the championship against the Warriors from Wichita.
Ten shut-outs in the season prove the tenacity of the defense, which Varnado noted was the team’s particular strength. In the eighteen games the Crusaders played, they had only twenty points scored against them, while putting sixty-six shots into the opponents’ nets.
“As a unit, I would say, the defense should be mentioned, especially the back line and our defensive player of the year, Mark Greene,” Varnado said. “We had six straight shut-outs at one point, which we’ve never done before and is hard to do at any level.”
The prospects for Crusader soccer look promising. Even though the team will lose five starters at graduation, the size and the talent of the team have grown significantly over the past year. “The future is very bright for the program,” Varnado said. “We have many returning players with experience, and we will continue to raise the bar with the level of competition we face.”