The Principia Panthers have the opportunity to capture their second high school boys soccer state championship.
The Panthers are back in the high school boys Class 1 Final Four. Principia finished second last year, losing 3-2 in a shootout to Barstow. The Panthers won their only state title in school history in 2015.
“The team and I are of course excited to be back again,” Principia coach Nigel Marples said. “They are excited for sure. These state tournaments are moments that high school athletes will remember for years to come. I know getting back here was on their minds as soon as the last season ended.”
The Panthers have not forgotten last season’s close call. Getting back to state was the mission this fall.
“This was on their minds after tying Barstow and coming up short in the shootout,” Marples said. “It was a clear goal set from the beginning of the season.
The Panthers won the Class 1 District 2 championship with by blanking Brentwood 3-0.
Principia qualified for the Final Four by topping Saxony Lutheran 3-1 in the quarterfinal played in Jackson.
“Our game against Lutheran Saxony was competitive and beating them down at their place is never easy,” Marples said. “We’ve faced Saxony the last two years and it has been a good test both years. They are well coached, technical and threatening on set pieces.
“It’s never easy to travel two hours and execute on field but full credit to our boys’ mentality and focus which resulted in them playing very well, working hard to limit Saxony’s opportunities and creating numerous scoring chances.”
When the game ended and the trip to the World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Marples said the boys celebrated.
“They looked like typical high schoolers after a big win — excited, joyful,” Marples said.
The Panthers (10-11) will meet the Father Tolton Trailblazers (10-10) at 10 a.m. Friday. The other semifinal will be played at noon and it features St. Paul Lutheran of Concordia facing Springfield Greenwood.
Principia will carry a four-game winning streak. How well have they played in this stretch?
“They have been first and foremost dedicated to doing the hard work and to fighting for each other,” Marples said. “It’s that kind of selflessness that motivates them to work harder for each other. Our offensive chemistry and creativity has been excellent through the latter part of the season. We’ve been well organized and tough to break down defensively all season, so things have really come together at the right time.”
Principia and Father Tolton last met two years and the Panthers lost the game in Columbia.
The Trailblazers will pose a good challenge for the Panthers, Marples said.
“They are a strong team and well coached,” Marples said. “They play a tough schedule against a lot of bigger schools, similar to our schedule. They will be well prepared and used to tough games. I think both sides of the bracket are very equal in strength. Every game at this point of the season is challenging.”
To have the opportunity to play for the state championship at 11 a.m. Saturday, Marples needs his Panthers have to have “positive thinking, work hard and (have) the desire to win.”
Marples is expecting the Panthers to be their fans cheering them on to in the game.
“We are fortunate to be close to home here, so I expect the boys will be very well supported,” Marples said.
The chance to play for the state title will be significant for his program, Marples said.
“It has been a trying season with many challenges for the boys — facing tough opposition, having a team member leave the school part way through the season, taking breaks in the season for school trips and being heavily involved in numerous other school-related activities vying for the boys’ time,” Marples said. “Difficulty can drive a team’s members apart or bring them closer together.
“These boys have shown their demonstrated their character time and again coming together to overcome every challenge they’ve faced. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young men then I am of these 19 boys and their manager.”