After the match was over on Monday, and the unranked Lincoln East boys soccer team had defeated fifth-ranked Lincoln Southwest 1-0, the East players ran to where the fans were seated at Seacrest Field and celebrated with the East students, standing on a bench and slapping hands with their classmates.
That’s not a normal scene for a match during the second week of the season, but you’ll soon understand why -- Lincoln East had lost 11 consecutive matches against Southwest in boys soccer, never beating the Silver Hawks in any of the previous six years.
“The past couple of years we haven’t been able to beat Southwest, so it feels nice to give our seniors a win against them, especially because it’s good Lincoln competition and we know a lot of those guys. It’s a fun game to play in,” said Lincoln East junior Alex Kohler.
During several of those years during the losing streak, the teams played twice per year with a regular-season match and in the conference tournament, and one year they also played in districts.
There were many years when Lincoln East was the best boys soccer program in Lincoln, but recently that’s shifted to Lincoln Southwest. Now it’s East that has the very early advantage in the competition for the city championship.
East improved to 2-0 on the season but still hasn’t had a practice outside due to the snow that had been on the fields.
Kohler scored the winning goal in the 25th minute of the match with a quick shot in front of the goal. It was his first goal of the year.
“Eli Brown played an excellent ball though, and I just hit it and it went in. It was a good play. The team played great,” Kohler said.
East survived in the second half when Southwest got off a flurry of shots in a five minute stretch with about 10 minutes remaining.
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“It was pretty intense,” Kohler said. “We kind of were struggling at the beginning of the half, but we put in the grit to pull it out. (Karson Jeffrey), the keeper, played great. And (Zion Osorio) and all our backs came up big at the end just to get balls out and help us secure the win.”
East had an 8-8 record last season, and came up one win short of making state after losing to Grand Island 1-0 in the district final.
Last year was also the first year for head coach Colin Smitsek. He’s from Surrey, England, had coached club soccer in Lincoln, and wanted to get more involved in the community by coaching a high school team.
From his first season, Smitsek said he learned that he needs to help the players set goals for each match, or each segment of a match. Also, how you need to be prepared because the high school season only lasts about 10 weeks.
This year Smitsek is working hard to have the players be more cohesive.
“So be individuals and have brilliance, but I think it’s Michael Jordan where he says individual players win games, but teams win championships,” Smitsek said. “So we’ve used that kind of analogy because it’s just perfectly spoken from a guy who has been there and done everything.”
Smitsek said this year the Spartans have a good mix of returning players and young players eager to prove themselves.
Southwest (1-1) had 12 players graduate from its 2018 state semifinal team.