By Maurice Patton
COLUMBIA – Greg Szydlowski was looking for a measuring stick when he scheduled Thursday’s matchup.
With his Columbia Central boys soccer team off to a perfect start through 10 games and unscored upon in five District 8-AAA contests, the veteran coach wanted to know just where his Lions stood against the best with postseason play looming in a couple of weeks.
After dropping a 3-1 decision to visiting Station Camp, Szydlowski was pleased with the answer.
“I’m elated for these kids. They work hard,” Szydlowski said as the unbeaten Bison scored twice in the opening 25 minutes and never relinquished the lead to improve to 8-0-4. “(We found out) that we belong with the best in the state. We belong with that team.”
Station Camp, which won Class AAA state titles in 2017 and ’18 before falling to Bearden in the 2019 state finals, scored less than four minutes into Thursday’s clash but the goal was waved off. The Bison got on the scoreboard at the 32:56 mark when Joey Bombrys converted on a loose ball in front of the goal, then extended the margin with 16:38 remaining in the half on an Ethan Schlegel goal.
Central’s Victor Ramirez cut the deficit in half on a direct kick that deflected off the Station Camp goalkeeper, off the crossbar and into the net with nine minutes to go before intermission.
That would turn out to be the only Lions marker, and the visitors re-established that two-goal lead with 15 minutes remaining as Chaz Bellweber scored.
“That’s an extremely high-pressure team – fast,” Bison coach Jeremy Cooke said. “That’s a team you want to play to prepare for state because that’s what you’re going to see at state.”
After falling in the Class AAA state sectionals in 2018 and ’19, Szydlowski is hopeful that Cooke is right regarding his team.
“You look: Goal (No.) 1 was a ‘gimme’; we had some miscommunication and the ball bounces,” the Lions coach said. “Goal 3, the backside (defense) wasn’t there and the guy finishes. Miscommunication again.
“There’s some adjustments we need to make. We wanted video against a team that’s going to be in the state tournament. Win, lose or draw, we were going to find out how strong we are.
“We’ve got some guys that we’ve got to get inserted so they’re more confident in those situations. But overall, we stuck with them. The first 20 minutes, we were a little ‘David and Goliath’. But the last 10 minutes of the first half, they were in trouble. They switched formations. They were in a 3-5-2, but we were beating them on their flanks and they went to a four-back formation.”
Columbia Central returns to District 8-AAA play Friday against visiting Coffee County – the Lions won 6-0 at Manchester on Tuesday – before traveling to Lincoln County Monday and hosting Shelbyville Thursday to complete league competition.
Courtesy photos by Buffy Holt