The Cottage Grove boys’ soccer team would’ve liked more than a split of their two games last week, but in the end it didn’t really matter.
In their final regular season game of the year on Thurs., Oct. 24 the Lions (8-5 overall, 5-3 league) had the tall task of taking on the Marist Spartans (12-0-1, 8-0) in Eugene, ultimately falling to the number-two team in the state 4-0.
No matter, as two days prior on Tues., Oct. 22 Cottage Grove successfully secured an automatic state playoff berth by exacting revenge on a Junction City team that got the better of the Lions in their first matchup over a month ago. It was a hard-fought, defensive battle that ended in a narrow 1-0 victory for the hometown Lions on senior night.
Having set their destiny with a win earlier in the week, head coach Vern Stewart went into the Marist game with a particular message for his squad, a message where winning or losing fell by the wayside to make way for something more important.
“I talked about the journey and how often you only concentrate on the destination and you shortchange yourself by not enjoying the journey itself,” Stewart said.
Despite both games against the Spartans finishing with the same 0-4 result for the Lions, Stewart wanted his team to focus on the process, the moment to moment flow of the game, rather than just the final outcome. Stewart, an avid fisherman, saw a metaphor in his own life.
“I used the analogy of going out on my boat as I get older,” Stewart said. “I love the ocean, I love fishing, I love my boat. I’ll go out and I’ll be taking my time to see the sunrise, watch the whales and all that kind of stuff. You’ll have other boats whizzing by to get to that fishing spot, but I take my time to get there. So it’s really not the destination.”
In any case, even with a loss to Marist, the Lions locked up their next destination - an OSAA state playoff berth - in the season’s penultimate game. They were led by team co-captain Evan Snauer who, according to Stewart, played the best game he’s ever seen out of his junior midfielder.
“And that’s quite a thing to say because he’s played a lot of good games. He just cut out any penetration that Junction City was sending. We missed a couple of other chances. We should’ve maybe scored another one or two, but everything was very, very, very physical,” Stewart said.
On top of controlling the middle from a defensive perspective, Snauer also scored the game’s only goal, a header about fifteen minutes into the second half. Snauer’s strike put the team ahead for good, but in a physical 1-0 game, his contribution was far from the only one.
“It was a group effort. Junction City is not the same team they were at the beginning of the year,” Stewart said.
The Lions finished their regular season winning three of their final four games while also being nominated for the OSAA Sportsmanship Award. Stewart couldn’t be prouder of a team he’s become quite familiar with over the years.
“These are some great guys,” Stewart said. “I’ve known some of these guys from when I was still teaching at the middle school. It’s not just that I’ve had them on my soccer team, but as students as well. They’re great citizens, great guys. They’re going to be leaders. The future of America is in good hands.”
Cottage Grove is idle this week and awaits the winners of all the various play-in games for non-automatic playoff qualifiers. To keep an eye on the Lions’ upcoming schedule, visit http://www.osaa.org/teams/28924.