URBANA — Kadyn Jones and the seven other Mahomet-Seymour boys’ soccer seniors waited their entire prep careers for this moment.
As freshmen, their season ended with a regional final loss to Mattoon.
As sophomores, a regional final loss to Mattoon.
As juniors, a regional final loss to Mattoon.
This year, the Bulldogs found separation from the Green Wave. With it, they captured that long-awaited regional championship.
Jones toed a loose ball around the opposing goalkeeper with about 26 minutes to play Friday, providing all the offense third-seeded M-S needed during a 1-0 victory over No. 2 Urbana in the Class 2A Urbana Regional title match.
“It feels so good to finally get one,” Jones said. “It’s been my goal since freshman year to get one, and it took a lot. But we got it.”
A defensive effort centered around swarming the ball carrier anywhere near the box kept the Bulldogs (17-4-4) safe from certain offensive efforts by the Tigers (11-5-2).
Other times, M-S sophomore goalkeeper Keagon Ashby put himself in the right location to make a stop — eight of them, in fact. Two apiece came against William Arana, Fernando Oliva-Contreras and Willem Alleyne.
“We didn’t find the net, but I would say we possessed the ball pretty well,” Urbana coach James Barkley said. “They did a good job of packing it in tight in the middle. That kind of kept us at bay a little bit.”
Bulldogs leader Jeremy Davis, who oversaw each of the previous three regional letdowns, admitted to having “a real tough time planning for this one.”
The reason? M-S’s 4-1 loss to the Tigers on Sept. 30 occurred two days after the Bulldogs’ homecoming dance.
“Flat out, I thought a lot of the guys played poorly,” Davis said. “That was my worry going in. We did adjust some things, but it was like, are we really better than we played the first time?”
Maybe the most important shift for M-S was Davis’ deployment of senior Jacob Janda, the Bulldogs’ leading regular-season goal scorer.
The speedy Janda played Friday’s first half on the back line, then moved into a forward position for the final 40 minutes.
“Second half we went back to kind of what we’ve been doing throughout the year and put a lot more pressure on (the opposition),” Davis said. “(Janda) also happens to be our best defender. He had to do the team job, and he did.”
Urbana came out of its halftime huddle with a powerful first 10 minutes that resulted in two shots on net and a corner kick.
Not long afterward, it was M-S’s turn.
Junior Eli Warren slung a short through-ball in the box as Jones took off on what Davis deemed a perfectly-timed run.
Tigers keeper Chase Mandra rushed toward Jones to contest, but Jones worked around Mandra and booted the ball to the opposite side of the cage.
“Honestly, I didn’t see a lot,” Jones said. “I just saw the goalie coming out. I just tapped it around him and was just like, ‘Don’t miss, don’t miss, don’t miss.’”
He didn’t, and the Bulldogs followed with some strong possession of their own. Urbana recorded its final shot on net with more than nine minutes on the clock.
“That’s the stupid thing with soccer sometimes: It’s just flow,” Davis said. “You’ve got to ride it. At the end of the first half we’re thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got to hold this together a little bit because they’re looking like the better team.’”
Though Barkley was left frustrated by “factors in a game that are out of your control” — the Tigers’ bench expressed disappointment with officiating throughout the night — he’s optimistic about what Urbana has going for its future.
“I feel good about next season,” Barkley said. “We’ve got, I think, seven sophomores playing on the same club team, so year-round together. ... We should make waves the next couple years.”
M-S’s next chance to generate noise comes in Tuesday’s 2A Bloomington Sectional semifinal versus Morton (22-2-1), which knocked off No. 1 seed Rochester in another regional final Friday.
Davis expressed confidence the Bulldogs could “still play our style a little bit” against the Potters.
That the M-S athletes get to discuss such matters is music to the ears of Jones and his fellow seniors.
“Feels so good,” Jones said. “I’ve been waiting a long time.”
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