Rubek: May Madness at Morrison Stadium

Kearney coach Scott Steinbrook was all smiles after his Bearcats won the Class A boys title Tuesday. They became the first boys team from outside the Omaha or Lincoln areas to win the Class A tournament.

Madness apparently isn’t exclusive to March, and the state soccer tournament is proof.

The six-day event, which wrapped up Tuesday, was among the more crazy in recent memory.

And you would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate cherry on top than the two championship sessions.

First it was the Elkhorn and Millard North girls springing upsets of two-time defending champions Monday. A night later in the boys finals it was South Sioux City’s turn to take down a returning champion before Kearney finished off a historic run to the top.

It capped on one of the more interesting tournaments in quite some time. Amongst the wildness:

» Kearney became the first boys soccer team from outside the Omaha or Lincoln areas to win the Class A tournament. The Bearcats put together the kind of run at state that they will be talking about for years to come.

» The Metro Conference was the minority in the Class A boys field for only the fourth time in the 31 years of the state tournament and only the second time since soccer was split into two classes in 1997. The conference had a combined 11 of 12 Class A boys semifinalists the past three state tournaments.

» Mass chaos in Class B girls. On the first day, an Omaha Mercy team that wasn’t in the ratings two weeks before the tournament took out then-No. 2 Gretna in the first round. Omaha Skutt then knocked out top-rated Elkhorn South in the semifinals. And while the two-time defending champs winning at state isn’t much of a surprise, the SkyHawks taking out an Elkhorn South team that was No. 1 in the overall Top 10. And all of that came before Elkhorn’s 2-0 win over Skutt in the finals.

» A group of young guns took down state soccer royalty in Class A girls. Millard North got a goal from a freshman and a shutout from a freshman to upend Omaha Marian. That’s heady stuff, even at a talent-rich program like Millard North. Of the Mustangs’ five tournament goals, four were scored by freshmen or sophomores.

» Calls that affected things on the boys side.

First came the red card shown to Omaha South defender Johan Centeno in the Packers’ opening round win over North Platte. The senior missed the semifinals , and South lost to Kearney.

Then there was a foul called on Crete in overtime that gave Elkhorn South a penalty kick. The Storm converted and advanced, eventually reaching the championship match.

A call in the last 20 seconds of overtime cost Omaha Westside its leading scorer for the finals. Senior Peter Novoa was forced to miss the Warriors’ title match against Kearney.

All three were tough calls that were discussed extensively on social media, but it should be noted that rules officials supported each.

A whirlwind for Kearney

Nearly 48 hours after his team left Omaha with a Class A title, things hadn’t settled down much for Kearney coach Scott Steinbrook.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Steinbrook said Thursday night, “but it’s been incredible.”

His Bearcats pulled off one of the more impressive runs at the state tournament by beating Omaha Creighton Prep, Omaha South and Omaha Westside, three of Nebraska’s strongest programs.

Steinbrook called the community support around his team “unbelievable.”

There were watch parties at a couple of  places in Kearney for Tuesday night’s match. A police escort greeted the team when it got back into town early Wednesday morning . Steinbrook said they got back and unloaded around 3 a.m.

And then there was the celebrity factor.

Steinbrook said he called Thursday to set up an oil change for his car and, after giving his name, was congratulated by the person on the other end of the phone.

“When you compete on a big stage like that, our community has a really special way of rallying around us,” Steinbrook said. “It’s a Class A school, but we try our hardest to maintain that small-town feel. The community really embraces that. It’s just so neat.”

Does the kind of run his team made in Omaha change that?

“The expectation in our soccer program is that we want to compete at a statewide level,” Steinbrook said. “Even though we have reached that spot where we feel like we belong there … I don’t think our kids are going to lose that edge that they have or maybe even that chip on their shoulder.”

Kearney moves to the Heartland Athletic Conference next season.

Longtime coach leaving Prep

The winningest program in boys state soccer history is losing one of its longtime head coaches.

Prep co-coach Jim Swanson was on the sideline for his final match last week in the Junior Jays’ opening-round shootout loss to Kearney.

Swanson has coached at different levels for Prep since 1991. He is taking a position with the Christian Urban Education Service, an organization that provides “financial support and operational guidance” to schools in north and east Omaha.

“I am excited to service the families in the CUES schools,” Swanson said.

Fellow co-coach Tom Hoover, who just wrapped up his 21st year with Prep, will return and be the program’s lone head coach. Junior varsity coach Steve Monzu will move up to become his assistant.

During Swanson and Hoover’s 14 seasons together Prep reached eight state championships, winning three. The Junior Jays had played in six state finals in seven seasons before their first round exit this year.

Swanson also won a state title on his own with Prep in 2003.

Send in statistics

Coaches are reminded to send final statistics to nickrubek@gmail.com if they haven’t done so already and if they are not updated on MaxPreps.

Field player statistics should include goals, assists and total points. Statistics for keepers should be matches played, goals against, goals against average and saves.

Postseason nomination forms should be returned by the end of this week.

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