The Columbia Eagles won’t receive an opportunity to defend their Class 1A state soccer championship of last season.
That’s because the Eagles, who were 21-3-2 last year, have moved up to Class 2A, where the postseason competition in the metro-east and the state figures to be more demanding. Columbia will be one of the smaller schools in the class.
“Winning back-to-back (championships) would be really nice, but it’s going to be extremely challenging and difficult,” third-year Columbia coach Jason Mathenia said, noting other Class 2A programs in the metro-east like Waterloo, Triad and Highland. “To even try to win a regional this year is going to be more challenging.”
Columbia graduated three of its four starting defenders and top scorer and two-time all-state selection Matthew Roderick, who had 20 goals and nine assists.
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But the Eagles boast a talented midfield of seniors Ryan Gudeman (12 goals, 14 assists), Sean Rickey (eight goals, 10 assists), Adam Becker (eight goals, 12 assists) and Cameron Roth (11 goals, eight assists).
Senior center back John Harrell, who had both goals in the Eagles’ 2-0 title-game win over Timothy Christian, and sophomore goalie Jon Kuebler also return.
“We haven’t got to the point of naming captains and things like that, but all the seniors are stepping up and doing their part,” Mathenia said. “Players that had significant roles last year are stepping up and taking care of stuff, too.”
The Eagles also gained senior Tyler Begis, who transferred from Waterloo. Begis compiled 12 goals and nine assists last year for the Bulldogs. Begis (pronounced BEG-us) could join Roth as a potent one-two punch at forward, or be used as attacking midfielders on the wing.
“It’s nice to have him come in,” Mathenia said of Begis.
Other players on the roster include seniors Logan Cannon, Luke McClanahan, Brett Meyer, Alec Broske, Noah Brauer-DeHart and Owen Lammert, junior Connor Jackson and sophomore Jake Bridges. Lammert is battling an ankle injury that he suffered before practice began.
The Eagles open the season Aug. 25 at Granite City. Their first home game is Sept. 3 against Mascoutah.
After their state championship last November, Mathenia said his players will have to guard against complacency and understand they will be targeted by opponents.
“They’ve got much higher expectations now,” Mathenia said. “Everybody is going to put pressure on you, whether you can repeat. I know that kind of pressure was on Gibault last year, whether they could repeat from the previous year. But they didn’t have to face the challenge of being bumped up another class.
“We’re going to have a pretty solid team, without a doubt. We’ll just have to see how everything comes together. There’s four, five or six spots that are pretty set in stone. The others are kind of up in the air right now. Once we get a game under our belts, it will give us an indication of where we’re at.”