When his team lost in the first round at the state tournament last year, Grand Island boys soccer coach Jeremy Jensen was obviously disappointed that his team hadn’t made it further on the biggest stage.
A big part of the letdown for the Islanders was also that they missed a chance at redemption in the form of a match against Omaha Creighton Prep — the team that beat Grand Island in the 2011 state final.
“If we take care of business for two games, we’re going to have that opportunity,” Jensen said. “(Prep) did, we didn’t.”
So Jensen picked up the phone and set up a home-and-home series with the Junior Jays, beginning with Saturday’s 1 p.m. match against the two-time defending state champions. He’s not afraid to emphasize what having this match on the Islanders’ home field means.
“I’d be lying if I said the kids didn’t circle that date after we put it together,” Jensen said. “It’s a big deal for us and really a big deal for central Nebraska. It’s not too often we get teams the caliber of Prep to come out here. Our guys, they’re 100 percent focused and excited.”
In fact, the Junior Jays leaving the Metro area is a rarity. Other than last year’s trip to West Des Moines Dowling, the last time a Prep game was played outside the Omaha area was 1997, Junior Jays co-coach Tom Hoover said.
“We were honored to be asked to go play them,” Hoover said. “They are an up-and-coming program that is probably — for years to come — going to be relevant in the state discussion.
“They just reflect so well on their program, and vice versa.”
Saturday’s replay of the 2011 final could be the culmination of a big week for both teams. Prep was upended by new No. 1 Omaha South in Monday’s Metro Conference tournament championship, falling from first place in the ratings.
The Packers are the only team to beat Prep since the second half of the 2010 season.
“Those two teams that played Monday night are about as evenly matched as they get,” Jensen said. “(The Junior Jays) are still the reigning champion, the two-time defending champion. South’s gotten them a couple of times now, but at the end of the day Prep still ended up on top. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing ... you want to play the best team.”
No. 3 Grand Island’s recent schedule has been just as tough. The Islanders went to a shootout before beating No. 8 Lincoln Southwest in the Heartland Conference tournament final last Saturday.
They’re also scheduled to play at fourth-ranked and unbeaten Kearney on Thursday, though Jensen said it was a “50-50” chance that the game would be affected by weather.
Whenever it gets on the field next, Grand Island will be trying to extend some streaks. Jensen’s bunch hasn’t lost a regular-season or district game in 212 seasons.
“We’re taking a lot of pride in the fact that outside of the state tournament our guys have 44 straight,” Jensen said. “Our seniors have never lost a home game.”
They’ve also never had the kind of game that they’ll get Saturday. Prep will bring a challenge that Jensen said his team is ready for.
“We’ve had the unbeaten regular seasons, won games at state, been to a final,” the coach said. “These kids really feel that the only thing they haven’t done yet is win that state championship. Prep has.”
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