Jon Kuebler was a 14-year-old freshman goalie three years ago when he helped the Eagles win the Class 1A state soccer championship.
Now a senior, Kuebler is still making saves and frustrating opponents.
Kuebler has been the last line of an Eagles defense that has been flawless for much of the season. Kuebler has 15 shutouts — 12 of them solo efforts — making both the routine and spectacular saves. His .29 goals-against average ranks sixth in the St. Louis region and his 1,650 minutes played are tops.
“I’m going to give you another statistic that you probably don’t know: Of the first six goals we’ve given up, two of those were on penalty kicks and while both of those were converted, Kuebler got a hand on both attempts,” Columbia coach Jason Mathenia said. “Our backs have done a tremendous job of providing a strong defense each night out. But when a shot has gotten through, Kuebler has been back there to make the saves.
“He has just been amazing all season. He earned the starting job as a freshman and was part of our state-championship team. He’s just a very special kid and an excellent goalie.”
The Cahokia Conference champion entered its regular-season finale Wednesday against Belleville West with a 22-0-2 record.
The Eagles are the the No. 1 seed heading into the Class 2A Mascoutah Regional and begin postseason play Oct. 17 against Highland. Columbia will play on its home field in the sectional if it advances.
Kuebler has been just part of the story for the Eagles, who had outscored their 23 opponents by a 77-7 margin.
Earlier this summer and a few weeks before the season began, Mathenia met with his team for the first time. He wanted to make sure his team knew what it would be up against.
“You can ask any of the players. When we got together this summer for preseason workouts I told them that they would be facing the most challenging schedule we’ve ever gone up against,” Mathenia said. “When I saw the teams who were in our bracket — Althoff, Gibault and Springfield High — for the season-opening Metro Cup, I said ‘that’s just the start.’
“We tied Springfield to advance where we played two Southwestern Conference teams in O’Fallon and Belleville West, who we were fortunate to defeat in the semifinal and championship game. Since that time, it’s just been one game at a time.”
It’s also been one win at a time for the Eagles. Columbia has dominated the competition this season.
Led by junior Riley Hubler and senior Sam Spivey, the Eagles have relied on a well-balanced attack. Hubler leads the Eagles in scoring with 24 goals and five assists which is good for 53 points, while Spivey has chipped in with 13 goals and four assists for 30 points.
Spivey, like Kuebler, was on the 2014 state championship team. While Spivey was a key reserve on that team, Kuebler had an immediate effect, finishing with five solo shutouts and 11 wins.
Kuebler continues to improve in all areas of the game.
“I feel like with each year I’ve continued to improve as a player,” Kuebler said. “Physically, I’m stronger and have improved in my ability to read the way teams are attacking and where I need to be. I think this team is comparable to the state-championship team.”
This team is different than the one we had that won the state title ... The similarities are this team has a lot of passion. It just has a knack of doing what it takes to win games.
Jason Mathenia, Columbia soccer coach
While the win at the Metro Cup helped Columbia get off to a fast start, it won an even bigger prize by taking the Walsh Division at the 63rd CYC/Guelker Tournament. The Eagles defeated Farmington, Mo., 1-0 in the title game.
Hubler tallied off an assist from Jake Bridges in the first half and Kuebler made six saves to preserve yet another victory.
“That was a big win for us because it came against a very strong Farmington team,” Mathenia said. “Hubler did a good job of taking advantage of a scoring opportunity and Jon was just unbelievable in goal for us. He made at least three or four game changing saves.
“The main reason our schedule is so difficult is because I want to play the best competition we can find. Playing the best teams makes you so much stronger and it helps get us ready for what we’ll see in the postseason. That is when you want to be at your very best.”
Mathenia said the Eagles bear some resemblance to their state-champion predecessors of three years ago.
“This team is different than the one we had that won the state title. I think we’ve got three players who were on that team which are still in the program,” Mathenia said. “The similarities are this team has a lot of passion. It just has a knack of doing what it takes to win games.
“I don’t even want to talk about if I think we can have a long postseason run. Our sectional is very strong with several good teams. We’re just looking at finishing our regular season strong and then getting ready for our first-round regional tournament opponent. It’s one game at a time.”