(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
ST. LOUIS -- Sikeston head coach Doyle Noe took advantage of his team playing one night earlier as he traveled up north to take in the matchup between Trinity Catholic and Lutheran South on Wednesday night.
He saw Trinity Catholic claim a 3-1 win over Lutheran South, which means the Bulldogs, who escaped Farmington with a 4-3 victory in overtime on Tuesday, will play Trinity during their Class 2 quarterfinal match on Saturday.
"They're a good team," Noe said about Trinity. "You get to this point of the season, everyone that you see is going to be solid. They move the ball around really well and they possess the ball well. It's going to be a tough game for us."
Although they had the advantage of home-field against Farmington, Sikeston will have to play on the road at Trinity High School which features a turf field and an expected large crowd.
"I think its a huge advantage for Trinity," Noe said about the Titans playing at home. "First off, they play all of their games on turf. If you're a quick, skilled, possession type team, turf is a huge advantage for you. You get your bounces and rolls and you get used to knocking the ball around on that stuff.
"They had a pretty big crowd up there (Wednesday) so I expect a huge crowd for Saturday. That will be something we have to battle. But, hopefully we'll be focused and ready to do what we need to do on the field."
Trinity has been rolling as of late. They have outscored their opponents 49-2 over their last 12 games, which were all wins. They are 19-6 on the season.
The Bulldogs have been on a tear as well winning 16 of their last 17 games.
It's the Bulldogs' first-ever quarterfinal game and, to this point, its the deepest any Sikeston team has made it through the post-season.
Trinity Catholic, however, has been in this position before.
The Titans were state runners-up in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Their head coach, Vince Drake, recently earned his 700th career coaching win earlier this season. He's also eclipsed the 1,000-win mark in girls soccer as well.
Drake has guided 11 boys teams, 12 total, to state championships, but all of those came at St. Thomas Aquinas and Aquinas-Mercy.
Trinity goes into the game with the upper hand already, with a heap of experience from both their coach and players, who have been deep in the post-season before.
"Obviously, that is a huge factor," said Noe. "You hope it's not, but its something where their kids may have experienced a little more than ours being in our first final four run. We don't have the post-season experience that they might have, but I think my boys are up for the challenge."
Their biggest challenge when facing Trinity will be stopping a very active Titan offense.
Led by senior Aaron Jezik, Trinity remains in constant motion when setting up an attack. According to Noe, it was very seldom to see Trinity players standing or being stagnant. They made runs all over the field to try to create scoring opportunities.
Jezik receives his feeds from fellow seniors Tom Koerper and Jordan Verbanaz who pace Trinity with 12 and 14 assists respectively. They have also contributed a combined 18 goals this season -- 15 are from Koerper.
With 23 goals on the season, however, Jezik will be under constant surveillance from the Bulldogs' defense.
"He's a very skilled player with very quick feet," Noe said about Jezik. "He posseses the ball very well and made a lot of things happen. He had two or three great chances to score a goal of his own (on Wednesday) but he created things for other guys. He's going to be the main guy we target on."
Teammate Mike Thiemet has 17 goals and seven assists on the season as well.
What Sikeston's potent offense will have to battle will be a fundamental defense who rarely makes mistakes. Goalie Jeremiah Cooper has 12 shutouts on the season.
"They had a solid defense," Noe said. "Nothing spectacular. But, they were well organized and very solid. (Cooper) was very fundamental on goal and he knew what he was doing. He's obviously been trained and is a skilled player."
Advantages Sikeston may have over Trinity could be their physicality and overall athleticism. With the Bulldogs not afraid to bump and run with anyone, Sikeston plans to use their aggressive nature to possibly slow down some of Trinity's burners.
"We're a very strong and aggressive team," said Noe. "We're going to try and use that to our advantage and neutralize some of their quickness off the ball."
Noe is also hoping his team's speed, quickness and all-around heartiness can be used to attack the goal on offense with Hunter Williams, Brandon Goodwin and Tyler McClinton surging towards the net.
Defensively, he hopes they can cause fits against the Titans' top scoring threats with defenseman such as Steven Baker and Zach Harrison on the outside and keeper Michael Gipson in goal.
"Overall, I don't think their athleticism is where ours is, but they are a very skilled and fundamental team," Noe said. "They possess and move the ball around to create chances. They didn't have a whole lot of weaknesses, so we'll attack a few areas and we're going to have to come to play for sure.
"We're not going to back down from anybody," Noe added. "We're going to come at them and give them the best we can. I'll put our athletes and team speed up against anybody."
Although they face a more experienced team that features a fundamental and disciplined attack, one of Noe's biggest concerns is themselves. Noe said there's no plans on making the situation that this is their first time in a quarterfinal game an excuse. Knowing that they belong and not dwelling on their numerous records they've broken so far this season cannot be enough.
"We're not going to settle on the idea of just being there," Noe said. "We're hungry and we want to take it a step farther."