The Zionsville boys soccer team hasn’t shied away from their goals this season.
After narrowly missing out on the state title last fall, the expectations of the Eagles were to get back to the state finals this year, and win it.
They are one step away from that goal after Saturday night, after Zionsville topped Columbus East 2-1 to win the semi-state for the second-straight year.
“It’s a great feeling to win this, but we still have a week to go,” senior defender Cam Greeson said. “We will celebrate now and on the way home, but it’s back to work Monday. The overarching goal of the season was to get back (to state). We have been taking it one game at a time and we had six steps this post-season and we are through five of them.”
Senior Chris Freeman, who scored the first goal for the Eagles, said it is almost a sense of relief to get back to the State Finals.
With all the pieces they had back, everyone expected them to be back in this position. Now they are, but he and his teammates also know they have a lot of work to do.
“It’s almost just a relief, after all the practices, and the pressure on our team from the schools and fans,” Freeman said. “This is the spot we wanted to get back to. It’s great to get back and give ourselves another chance. I think we are playing really well right now and have some momentum.”
Tied 1-1 at the half, the Eagles had a strong wind at their back for the second half, and took advantage of it.
They came close several times to scoring, but didn’t get the breakthrough until 12:15 left in the game.
The Eagles got a throw-in deep in Columbus East’s half, and Greeson threw it into the Columbus East box. An Olympian got his head on the ball, but it skimmed backwards and into the net to give Zionsville the 2-1 lead.
“Usually I just try to get it to the front post, and hope for a flick to the back for a goal,” Greeson said. “The defender got his head on that one, but it went in. I just try to get it to the goal and let our guys make a play.”
The Eagles spend considerable time working on set pieces throughout the season, especially corners and those long throw ins.
Head coach Rob Jordan said they just want to get the ball in a dangerous area because you never know what can happen.
“That is such a dangerous ball, and it is really tough on the keeper when you can get it in that area,” Jordan said. “Cam threw a great ball in there and it got a deflection and found a way in. A lot of our set pieces were really dangerous.”
The Eagles nearly added to the lead twice in the final 10 minutes, but quality chances from Freeman and Josh Kuller didn’t end up in the back of the net.
Still, the pressure Zionsville was able to keep up over the final 10 minutes was enough to deny Columbus East any quality chances to tie the game.
The Eagles dominated possession for most of the first half, but found themselves down 1-0 15 minutes into the game, when a long ball bounced over the Eagles defense.
Columbus East’s Logan Cline got the the ball first, and Eagle defender Nick Pease got a got a foot to deflect the shot, and it found its way into the far corner of the goal.
Jordan said the Eagles knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy game on Saturday against a Columbus East team that came in with a 17-0-3 record.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a tough game,” Jordan said. “They play hard and we knew they were going to be aggressive with us. To go down a goal and then come back, it’s great.”
The Eagles were able to tie the game at the perfect time.
Just when it looked like they would be going into the half down a goal, Freeman got the ball 20 yards from goal, was able to beat a couple of defenders and curled a shot past the Olympian keeper to tie the game.
“Chris made a great individual effort,” Jordan said. “I couldn’t see who got it to him, but he still beat two or three guys and we know he can shoot from there and the keeper didn’t have a chance.”
Freeman said he felt like going into the half tied 1-1 instead of up 1-0 was deflating for Columbus East, and that it gave the Eagles the boost they needed heading into the second half.
“I think it was definitely a turning point for us,” Freeman said. “Instead of being down one, it was basically a brand new game. Nobody had their heads down, we knew we could score in the second half. We knew if we played our best soccer for 40 minutes we were going to have a good shot.’
And the final 40 minutes, they did exactly what they needed to to win.
Next up will be the state championship game against Lake Central, which beat Noblesville 2-1 in the north semi-state. The game will be played at Fishers High School. The Eagles will be the final game on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Eight of the Eagles players appeared in the state championship game last year.
Greeson said the message this week would be that while it is a big game, it’s still the same game they have played all year.
“It’s a big game, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a game of soccer,” Greeson said. “If we can go out and play the way we know how to play, we know we can do it. We know whoever we are going to play is going to be a great team, but we know we are good too, so we just have to show up and execute.”
Freeman echoed Greeson’s sentiments.
“It’s just another game ultimately,” Freeman said. “We have to make sure everyone stays calm. If they do that, and we play the way we are capable of, we will be alright.”