SIKESTON - Back-to-back district titles; sounds good. That is what the Sikeston Bulldogs boys soccer team has accomplished in the last two seasons.
In 2004, the Bulldogs were Class 2, District 1 champs and advanced to the quarterfinals only to lose 3-1 to Affton, finishing the year 12-11-1 which marked the first time in school history Sikeston soccer had a winning record.
This season, in what head coach Derrick Long termed a "rebuilding year," Sikeston captured the Class 2, District 1 title again in a heart-stopping shootout against Notre Dame High School. The Bulldogs fell to Trinity High School in the quarterfinals 4-1 and finished 13-11.
Not bad work for a program that came to existence as a junior varsity program in 1992. Long became the head coach in 1998 and has witnessed a transformation in the boys soccer program at Sikeston.
"Seven years ago, at my first practice, I was wondering what I got myself into," said Long. "The skill level at that time was so low, I spent much of practice just going over the basics of soccer. We were not competitive and it showed on the field."
Two district titles in as many years, is a far cry from four win seasons for Long.
"In my first two seasons at Sikeston," said Long, "we won eight games, four each year. It has been a long road to travel, but every year the skill level of the players keeps raising, and we are long past the basics and we are starting to play with more strategy. Back when I first started, we might have six players show up in the summer to play one time a week. Now, our guys play every day in the summer. They love to play the game. We have taken a jump up in terms of soccer ability."
This season for the Bulldogs was successful, but Long expressed it was a long road to the district championship.
"We finished very well," said Long. "But it took us to midseason to really get on track and to find our stride. After we lost to Fredericktown (Sikeston lost 1-0), we got on a roll and won six or seven games in a row and we just took off from there."
This season the Bulldogs' great midfield play and excellent defense in front of goalie Scott Droddy was a recipe for success.
"We were concerned going into the season," said Long, "because we lost our entire defense from last year. But we had some players step up and we shut some teams down."
Long credited defensemen Ryan Beaird, Hunter Dillender, Adam Gillean and Dakota Trevino with doing an excellent job on defense and for keeping Sikeston in many of the games this year.
Several Bulldogs made the Class 2, District 1 All-District team. Junior Blake Taylor made the first team at forward. Fellow junior Chris Carnell made first team at midfield and senior Beaird made the team as a defender.
On the season, Taylor was the leading scorer for Sikeston netting 28 goals and recording 12 assists. Taylor had eight game-winning goals and led the team in shots with 82.
"Blake is a great kid," said Long. "Has a good attitude and is a motivator for our team. His always gives maximum effort and was great in the air. He has some speed which allows him to get free on shots. Only thing we need to work on is his shooting. Sometimes, Blake has a tendency to take long shots on goal and we need to work on getting him closer. Blake has an excellent shot at making the All-State team and has potential to take his talent to the next level."
Carnell was third on the team in goals with six and tied for second in assists with 11. Carnell had one game-winning goal and recorded 69 shots on the year, which was second on the team.
"Chris is what we call a gym rat," said Long, "he had a great year and after practice was over, he would always stick around looking to scrimmage. Chris has amazing footwork and is the constant team player."
Beaird was an excellent defender who wasn't counted on much for scoring but did record four assists on the year. Beaird did have 15 shots on the year.
"Ryan was the leader of our team," said Long. "He controlled our defense and made all of our calls. Ryan played with a lot of fire and was a physical force on the field. Ryan will be missed."
Freshman Timmy Hart made the Class 2, District 1 All-District second team at midfield. Hart was one of only two freshmen to make either All-District team.
"Timmy will be a complete player," said Long. "I like to play younger kids in the back to let them get a feel for the speed and tempo of the game. Next year, we will play him up front more because he can be a finisher. He is fantastic in the air and we expect big things from him next season."
Long believed that two Sikeston players got overlooked for All-District honors, in Droddy and senior Scott Gardner.
Droddy had an excellent year in goal for the Bulldogs. On the season, Droddy played 1,726 minutes of a possible 1,886 minutes in goal. Droddy saved 288 shots and allowed only 36 goals. Droddy finished with a record of 12-9 and had seven shutouts.
"It is a shame he didn't make districts," said Long. "Scott was amazing in goal and because he didn't get recognized at the district level, he will not get any recognition at the state level. Knowing Scott, he won't care about not making the district team. His first concern is his team, and he was excited to win districts. That is all he cares about."
Gardner was Sikeston's second leading scorer with nine goals on the year and recorded 11 assists. Gardner had two game-winning goals and had 61 shots.
"Scott just got overlooked for district honors because he plays alongside of Taylor," said Long. "He (Gardner) had a great year and came up with some great shots for the team. Scott has a powerful left foot and has a chance to play at the next level."
Overall, Sikeston scored 54 goals on 359 shots in the season. Of the 54 goals, 52 of those were assisted on. Sikeston had 13 game-winning goals.
Sikeston will miss the services of seniors Beaird, Gardner, Andrew Box and Trey Stone. However, Long is encouraged with his returning players and the overall state of soccer in Sikeston.
"I am encouraged in what we have coming back," said Long. "I like what I see in town as far as kids seeing our program being successful and kids want to play for a winning program. Soccer is an inclusive sport and we can find a spot on the field for anybody who wants to come out. Winning is contagious and I hope it starts to spread throughout the school system."