The trials of last season and the unexpected death of coach Alan Shepherd have given way to a breakout season this year for Kapaun Mount Carmel, and the Crusaders now find themselves two victories from a state boys soccer title.
Senior Thomas Wells scored four goals Tuesday night, giving him a state-record 46 on the season, and Kapaun pulled away from a 2-0 halftime lead to rout defending Class 5A champion Salina South 10-1 at Stryker Soccer Complex.
Coach Anthony Cantele, who stepped in for Shepherd in August 2015, said memories are still fresh of the coach who headed up the boys team for 25 years.
“It’s always been about him,” said Cantele, whose Crusaders will take a 15-3-1 record into Friday’s 5A semifinals at Emporia against Blue Valley Southwest (15-3-1). “Most of these boys have been coached by him, and until their careers are over they’re going to keep that in the back of their heads, knowing what he did for them, what he did for this program.
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“This program wouldn’t be here and be what it is without him, so it’s never too far, because he started everything.”
Cantele said the adversity of 2015 left the team hungry.
“What they went through last year, they battled through a lot of tragedy, the main one being (Shepherd), they had an unfortunate loss in the regional championship,” Cantele said. “Most of our guys returned (and) they were hungry to turn that around, but they also remember what they went through to get to this point. And, they also remember what he did for them.”
Kapaun started early, scoring its first goal just 1:45 into the game, but led just 2-0 at halftime.
When Salina South (14-4-1) scored in the first minute of the second half, Cantele said he was concerned.
But that soon changed when junior Cody Benedict scored his second goal of the game for a 3-1 lead just six minutes after the Cougars score.
Wells then scored his second goal five minutes later, and the Crusaders kept up the barrage all the way into the 77th minute.
“I actually wasn’t comfortable with a 2-0 lead, especially against a team of that quality,” Cantele said. “The score doesn’t reflect how good a team they are. We were just good at finishing (Tuesday), doing the things we coach them day after day.”
Benedict opened the Kapaun scoring before two minutes had elapsed, scoring on a header off a pass from Garrett Goodson – one of Goodson’s three assists on the night.
The eight-goal barrage in the second half allowed Cantele to pull Wells and some of the other starters.
“When you have guys – especially with Thomas – going into the final four at state, the last thing you want to do is risk an injury or a yellow or red card type of situation,” Cantele said. “We’ve had this in previous years, where we want to get those guys out so they don’t get an injury.
“This wasn’t a game where I expected to do that, but because we played as well as we did the last 30 minutes of the game, I was able to do that, and that makes me as a coach much more comfortable.”
Getting goals beyond Wells was crucial as well, Cantele said.
“I think this was the first game where we showed we were more than Thomas Wells,” he said. “He’s the guy that everybody’s going to focus on, but we’ve got other weapons, and (Tuesday night) really showed it. Even guys that don’t get to play very often got in there and put in some goals.”
Wells, who came out shortly after his fourth goal of the game, in the 66th minute, said the team really pulled it together.
“I think this is probably the best game we’ve played yet,” he said. “It’s a good time to be playing our best, too.”
Wells said Benedict hit his goals at critical times of the game.
“That first goal and the third goal of the game were both his,” Wells said. “They were big goals, very important goals.
“The thing was, the subs came in, and they played phenomenal, too.”
Benedict said he has had a few games with two goals, but not one against the defending state champs.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Kapaun also benefited from the steady play of Goodson, like Wells a senior, who did his part Tuesday by setting up teammates rather than scoring.
“You just need to know your part of the team, because everyone has a different part,” he said. “We just connect together, and everyone knows their part. It flows like water and just works out.”
Goodson said Tuesday’s game was special also because it was the Crusaders’ final home game.
“Very emotional,” he said. “Defeating the reigning state champions is just a great feeling.”
He said he didn’t expect the game to be as lopsided as it was.
“We just put passes together, and it all worked out,” he said.
Salina South 0 1 – 1
Kapaun 2 8 – 10
Goals: Kapaun, Benedict (Goodson), Wells (L. Silviera), Benedict (Goodson), Wells (UA), Zachgo (UA), Wells (UA), Wells (Goodson), P. Dehner (Benedict), Zachgo (Malone), Malone (Zachgo); S. South, Licon (E. Escobedo). Shots-saves – Salina South, Bandre, 23 shots, 13 saves; Kapaun, Chessmore, 12 shots, 11 saves).