The third time was indeed the charm for the De Smet soccer Spartans under coach Josh Klein.
After narrow misses in the Class 4 state championship game in 2015 and 2018, De Smet was determined not to be a bridesmaid again this season.
De Smet (19-4-1) won its first state championship since 2011 with a 1-0 victory over previously undefeated Lee’s Summit (22-1) at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton. The state title was the sixth overall for De Smet.
The title game was a rematch. Lee’s Summit lost to De Smet in the Class 4 semifinals a year ago. The Tigers were gunning for their second state title and first since 2014.
The memorable game needed 13 rounds of penalty kicks before the Spartans prevailed.
De Smet won the penalty kick portion 11-10 to become state champs once again.
“(It) Sounds incredible,” Klein said. “What a ride it’s been. I’m honored to a state title back to De Smet. Being in the hallways at school and seeing all the smiles and hugs and words of congratulations to the boys, really made for a special day.”
Klein had a feeling this Final Four might be different from before. In 2015, Francis Howell thwarted De Smet in a 1-0 victory. Last fall, CBC earned a 1-0 win over the Spartans.
“The boys had some great momentum heading into the Final Four,” Klein said. “The big district final versus Chaminade and the convincing (quarterfinal) win versus Fort Zumwalt West told me that we’ve got a crew that’s ready to do something special.”
Getting back to Final Four was the objective all along for this squad.
“It’s been their goal right from the start,” Klein said. “The word “redemption” was constantly used this year — in the locker room, on the field, and in our pregame prep.”
Step one came in the semifinal. De Smet defeated Lindbergh 2-1.
“Lindbergh was having a great year. They were charging with a great deal of momentum also,” Klein said. “We did our homework, knew where their threats were, and then had several attackers step up in big ways.”
Junior forward Thomas Redmond scored the first goal that came in second half. Grabbing the lead after a scoreless first half was “huge,” Klein said.
“I’m happy it was Thomas who got it,” Klein said. “After the first half where he missed some good opportunities, I didn’t think we could get him on the field any faster after halftime. He was determined to prove to his team that they can count on him in a big moment.”
Senior defender Brayden Morgan then got the goal that turned out to the game-winner.
“Probably the highlight of his career,” Klein said. “He did score a game-tying goal against Chaminade in the final seconds of our regular season game with them but a goal in the state semifinals, the game-winning goal as a matter fact, has to be the top.”
Klein noted Morgan can now say he did what his older brother did at state as well.
“There’s even some cool family history here, too,” Klein said “His brother Griffin Morgan (2016 graduate) scored in the state semifinals in 2015 versus Nixa.”
The Spartans were happy to earn the right to play for the state title again. Klein pointed out the squad knew they had business to take care of.”
“We were excited but we also knew what we came for this year,” Klein said. “We quickly reminded the boys that there’s one more game. One more game for them to reach their goal.”
Lee’s Summit would be no pushover for the Spartans. The Tigers outscored opponents 95-5 this season and never trailed in a game in compiling 18 shutouts as a team in 23 matches.
“They probably had the most dynamic players we’ve seen all season,” Klein said. “Super fast and skillful up top and smart and strong in the back. After watching their semifinal against Lee’s Summit West (a 1-0 overtime win), we knew we had our work cut out for us, but we also knew we could hang with them.”
Klein spelled it all out to his team before the game.
“A lot of our pregame talk had to deal with how these are the two top teams in the state,” Klein said. “It’s going to be a good, close game. What it could come down to is heart. How much a kid has in his chest.”
While his team was confident and focused, Klein knew there were some butterflies floating in each player as well. He talked about that, too.
“I was there to remind them that that’s perfectly normal,” Klein said.
Lee’s Summit held a 4-1 advantage in shots in the two overtime periods (all came in the first OT) and outshot De Smet 9-7 for the game. De Smet had the better of play in a scoreless first half, outshooting Lee’s Summit 3-0.
The Spartans’ two best chances came within the final 10 minutes of the first half. Henry Lawlor was tripped just outside the Tigers’ box, but Brendan Schoemehl’s free kick went just wide. Just over a minute later, Thomas Redmond took a pass from Brayden Morgan and blasted one from just inside the box. His attempt sailed high.
“I remember getting some really good looks on a lot of our set pieces,” Klein said. “As the night got later, the mist started to come in and freeze the turf. Our typical possession and finesse style of play was thrown out the window. The boys were running on fumes. Once again, it was a heart that pushed them to the end.”
De Smet had just one game reach penalty kicks this season. That was Chaminade and the Spartans lost that game.
Klein was not worried. “This is why we practiced them all season long,” he told his team.
“We would simulate as close to a game-like PK as possible at practice,” Klein said. “With a whistle start (for timing) and pressure from everyone around watching him kick. I told them to step up, find their location, and hit it with confidence.”
Nick Grewe, Redmond, Carson Wilhelm, Max Mundwiller, Brendan Schoemehl, Anthony Grewe, Andrew Freund, Billy McCaslin, and Lawlor all hit their penalty kicks. Redmond and Grewe each scored twice. Lawlor made the final shot after missing his first one.
De Smet shot first. So when Lawlor made his second attempt, the Spartans had a chance to win it.
Senior goalie Connor Mulvaney did his job as well for De Smet.
“We needed to have Connor come up big with a save or hope for a miss,” Klein said.
Mulvaney did not disappoint. He stopped Keegan Ranney to seal the win for De Smet. Ranney also missed the other two PKs for Lee’s Summit.
It was a great game for Mulvaney.
“That’s what I think a lot of people need to remember. Connor made some great saves during the game,” Klein said. “He stopped a good free kick and a really low, driven ball from about 40 yards out that skipped on the thin layer of ice that was starting to form on the turf. Most goalies would cough up a rebound, but Connor secured it like we’ve seen him do so many times at practice. What made it even more nerve-racking, was had he coughed up that rebound a Lee’s Summit forward was right there ready to tap it in.”
Klein, a 1997 De Smet graduate, is the school’s second varsity soccer in its history. He took over the program in 2014.
Now, he can join Greg Vitello as a state championship coach. Klein noted he wanted to lead the Spartans to a state title.
“I feel like I had to. That’s the kind of program De Smet is,” Klein said. “But I wasn’t about to abandon any of my core beliefs or my principles that I believe make the team successful. Three state final appearances in the last five years says a lot about our mission, coaching staff, and the talented players that want to wear maroon and white.
“My first state championship as a head coach at my alma mater, one of the strongest soccer programs in the whole state. Of course. I’ll never forget it because who knows what the future will hold.”
The program loses six starters to graduation. Five starters will return.
“I’m excited for the future. Our underclassmen stepped up in big ways this year and we’ve got loads of talent coming up from the lower levels,” Klein said. “We’re not the only ones retooling. Lots of other programs have some young talent coming up also. For now, we’re going to enjoy this and enjoy this a lot.
“And then, once my feet return to the ground, we’ll get back to work with our next group.”