The near tragedy that was averted on Kansas City Kansas Community College's amazing ride to its first ever NJCAA Region VI and Plains District soccer championships:
"On one of Rose State's kicks in the Shootout, the ball hit the cross bar," recounted KCKCC assistant coach Burke Slusher. "Fortunately, our goalkeeper, Youssef Gadelkerim, alertly picked up the ball because the ball was still in play. The referee told Youssef he made a smart play because the ball would have rolled back into the goal."
Minutes later, Gadelkerim made the biggest play of his young collegiate career, a diving deflection of a shot by Rose State star Ala Ramadan that gave the Blue Devils an 1-1, 8-7 win and a berth in the Plains District championship game against Ranger (Tex.) College. "It was very satisfying because of the way he had improved throughout the season," said KCKCC head coach Ruben Rodriguez.
The Blue Devils (12-3-1) now await the pairings for the national tournament starting next Monday on Mountain Valley Field in Prescott, Ariz. A field of 12 teams will be divided into pods of three teams with each team playing the other two teams in its pod. The four winners will then advance to the national semifinals.
Gadelkerim was just one of a bunch of stars in the dramatic semifinal win. Guilherme Grave had KCKCC's lone goal in regulation time while Ricardo Angelo, Gustavo Paleiri, Giovannie Calderon, Leonardo DaSilva, Pa Ousman Jobe, Mario Sandoval and Emmanuel Hernandez all had goals in the Shootout before Angelo's second successful kick in sudden death proved to be the winner.
"Towards the end of the game, it became evident Rose State wanted to go to penalty kicks," said Rodriguez. "They were focused on stopping us defensively. We had chances but couldn't convert."
"Anytime you go to a Shootout, there's going to be high drama," said Slusher. "And going to sudden death adds even more. Being the first game of the district, I think there was a little bit of nerves for some of the guys. They played a little bit tentative, we weren't quite as sharp."
The drama, however, had started much earlier – a 1-0 regional win over No. 7 ranked Cloud County in Concordia won on a header by Ricardo Angelo off a corner kick by Gustavo Paleiri just 2:32 into the first overtime. "That may have been the biggest highlight for the team – playing the No. 7 in the country, their place, in overtime, not a good field," said Slusher. "It was a real intensive game for 94 minutes. You could see on the celebration video what a major win it was for the team."
"Long trip and difficult field conditions but about 10 minutes into the game I thought the boys felt comfortable," echoed Rodriguez. "The key was we were able to stick to the game plan of high pressure and not allowing them to set the tempo of the game."
According to Cloud coach James Ross, it was the difference in the outcome. "They (the Blue Devils) came in here with the mentality of playing physical, disrupting us and they did that," said Ross. "That really sped up our play, which is not our game. KCKCC did a really good job of taking us out of our game."
The Blue Devils never trailed in the 3-2 win over Ranger in the championship game. Grave scored the first of his two goals on a deflection of a free kick just 14:42 into the contest and then extended the lead to 2-0 on a pass from Ricardo Angelo at the 28:33 mark. The Blue Devils dominated most of the first half only to give up a goal on a free kick to Kyle Edwards with just 1:17 left in the first half.
Ousman Pa Jobe reopened the lead to 3-1 on an assist from Hector Valles just six minutes into the second half and it stayed that way until the final 13 minutes when Ranger scored on a goal by Azinho Solomon assisted by Edwards. Playing with very little rest following a double overtime win over Rose State Thursday night, the Blue Devils took every punch Ranger could throw at them to hang on for the historic victory.
"I really felt confident," said Slusher. "The guys were in the right frame and clicking in sync." "Getting the early lead on the goal by G (Grave) helped tremendously," said Rodriguez. "And it was important that we again stuck to our game plan of high pressure. A total team effort; the boys really stepped up."
PHOTO IDENTS (2017 soccer champs)
For the first time in more than 25 years of soccer at Kansas City Kansas Community College, the Blue Devils are bound for the NJCAA Division I national tournament in Prescott, Ariz., next week. KCKCC defeated Garden City 4-0, No. 7 Cloud County 1-0 in overtime, Rose State in a 1-1, 8-7 Shootout and Ranger (Tex.) 3-2. (KCKCC Photo by Emilie Lutz)