(Photo courtsty of Kari Jo James)
By Parker Knox
Dust off another spot in the trophy case at Vermillion High School!
Another Tanager team wears the mantle of state champions after the VHS boys' soccer team won a dramatic overtime thriller Saturday afternoon in Rapid City, edging Harrisburg, 2-1, in the Class "A" tournament finale.
Following in the path blazed to glory by the VHS baseball team in May, the soccer Tanagers completed a remarkable undefeated season in a game that was not the least bit typical of Vermillion games this fall.
The Tanagers, during their eight-game regular season, quieted the local critics of soccer who say the sport is boring because there's hardly ever any scoring. They scored in double digits four times, outscored their opponents 66-9 and had only one dangerously close contest – a 2-1 win over Harrisburg last month.
In the state tournament as the No. 1 seed, the Tanagers continued to slam home goal after goal, beating Hot Springs 9-3 in the Thursday quarterfinals, then taking the measure of Sturgis by a 6-2 count in the semifinals. Sturgis, the No. 4 seed, had lost to the Tanagers last month by a 6-3 score.
But there was no comfort zone, no margin for error in the championship tilt on Saturday. Harrisburg, the No. 2 seed which had posted shutouts of 6-0 over Custer and 1-0 over Huron to reach the finals, and Vermillion were destined to play each other, and they didn't disappoint the fans at the Sioux Park soccer fields.
The Tanagers and the Tigers remained scoreless through the first half and through the second half. At one end that meant a job excellently done by Tanager goalkeeper Alex Robertson, who successfully made nine saves in the game. But the 0-0 deadlock at the end of regulation time meant two 10-minute overtime periods.
"We were panicking on the field a bit toward the end of regular time because we had not been in that situation all season," said first-year coach Curt Nelson. "Going into overtime I reminded the guys how well we can play when we keep our composure and have fun playing our game."
Message understood. Mission accomplished.
Nate Samudzi converted a Tanner Settles assist into a 1-0 Vermillion lead during the first extra period. The Tanagers were only two minutes away from victory when Harrisburg put in the tying goal with only two minutes remaining before a shootout would ensue.
But with only 15 seconds left Samudzi scored his eighth goal in three games, this one off Matt Porogi's assist. The remaining seconds ticked away, and the Tanagers were state champions.
In the quarterfinal win over Hot Springs, the Tanagers got off to a somewhat slow start – for them, at least. They had two first-half goals, but the floodgates opened in the second half when seven more Vermillion scores made it a rout over the Bison.
Two of the three Hot Springs goals came on penalty kicks.
Settles recorded a hat trick of three goals, Porogi and Samudzi scored twice each, and James May and Joe Miller contributed one goal apiece.
Vermillion took command against Sturgis with four first-half goals. The Scoopers scored early in the second half, but VHS more than matched that with two goals of their own. A final meaningless Sturgis goal came late in the game.
Samudzi had a four-goal production, and Sam Tigert and David Day each scored once for Vermillion.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way our team finished the season," Nelson said. "The pressure was on us as the undefeated team going into the state tournament, and we had to put it all on the line."
Nelson said his club played with focus and intensity for three complete games.
"We ended the season accomplishing what we knew we were capable of," he added.
Vermillion never trailed in a game all season except for a grand total of three seconds in the regular-season game at Sturgis. In that one Sturgis scored on the Tanagers, but VHS took the kickoff and scored from the half line.
The All-State team announced Tuesday includes six Vermillion players. Alex Robertson, Matt Porogi, Nathan Samudzi and Tanner Settles were all first-team selections, and Chris Lubbers and Ethan James were named to the All-State second team.
"I would like to thank everyone who supported us this year," Nelson concluded, "especially the parents, managers, Vermillion Youth Soccer, and the Booster Booth."
Lubbers, Robertson, Settles, David Day and Christian Wasley are seniors on this year's varsity, but Samudzi and James are only juniors, and 19 other boys in grades 7-11 were out for soccer this season at VHS.
(Photo courtesy of Kari Jo James)