Boys soccer: Blue Demons explode on Senior Night

Apr. 23—OTTUMWA — Matt Johnson was already set for busy, memorable weekend.

On Friday night, the Albia High School head boys soccer coach had one thing to celebrate before becoming a dad for the third time just a few days later. The Blue Demons honored a quality class of seniors, many of whom helped contribute to a decisive 9-0 win over Grand View Christian on Friday night.

"All the seniors did a heck of a job," Johnson said. "All the guys that had an opportunity did a heck of a job. Almost every goal we scored was scored by a senior. I was kind of wondering how the guys would come out, but they've worked themselves into position where they can play 75-80 minutes without needing a break."

Besides the emotion of honoring 10 seniors, the Albia boys were coming off another emotional high less than 24 hours earlier. The Blue Demons rallied from a two-goal deficit on the road last Thursday at Clarke, scoring three goals in the final eight minutes to rally for a 3-2 South Central Conference victory in memorable fashion.

"That was a tough game. We played really well for most of the match, but just couldn't the ball into the net into those final minutes," Johnson said. "The boys put into that third and final gear to win that match, but I thought that might cause us to have a little bit of a hangover coming into the very next match.

"The boys have been told all season they need to get themselves into shape. I think they took that to heart."

Any fear of a letdown were put away early on when Dylan Renaud put Albia's first shot of Friday's match into the back of the net less than five minutes after the opening kickoff. Grand View Christian managed just three total shots in the entire match, including just two shots that challenged Albia goal keeper Jaxon Strickler, making a one-goal lead seem even bigger.

It wouldn't be long, however, before that one-goal lead would literally grow. Conner Fisher, one of Albia's 10 senior players honored after the match, found the back of the net in the 19th minute off a feed from senior teammate Connor Renaud igniting a hat trick in one of the final home games for Fisher in his Blue Demon athletic career.

"We've been here since since our freshman year. There's a lot of us (seniors) that grew up playing youth soccer together," Fisher said. "It means a lot on Senior Night for everyone to contribute. It's an ultimate brotherhood. I've played with a lot of these guys since the city league when I was five-years-old. We've even played winter games and on travel teams. It's been a complete brotherhood since the first time we stepped on the field together."

Cason Noe and Cole Hafer, two more Albia seniors, each scored later in the first half to double Albia's two-goal lead. Fisher closed out a five-goal first half for the Blue Demons, scoring off a feed from Noe in the 38th minute to open a 5-0 lead over the Thunder.

While Fisher was finding the back of the net, another Albia senior led the team in total shots in the opening 40 minutes. Lance Helm, however, narrowly missed on several shots during the first half and was still seeking his first goal on Senior Night minutes into the second half.

Finally, on his ninth shot of the match, Helm put a ball past Grand View Christian goal keeper Ethan Brough right in the middle of the net in the 48th minute. It would be the first of two goals in the second half for Helm, giving the Blue Demons a seven-goal lead.

"There were a lot of guys in the box, so I couldn't quite get the clear shots I was looking for in the first half," Helm said. "Fortunately, all my teammates were scoring. I can't be unhappy with that. Getting a nine-goal win on Senior Night is pretty nice."

Fisher finished off his hat trick by scoring his third goal off a feed from Judah Smith in the 60th minute. Smith, a sophomore, added a goal of his with a low liner from 25 yards out in the 66th minute setting off a wild celebration with several of his older Blue Demon teammates.

"We have such a good soccer program," Helm said. "We all started out playing youth soccer, but the coaching we get on this team from a pair of former Albia players (Johnson and Landon Noe) has also helped us improve our skills so much. It's a culture that's had a big impact on all of us."

Fisher, Helm, Hafer, Cason Noe, Connor Renaud, Carter Kamerick, Trell Amoss, Rinor Maksuti, Logan Reynolds and Gavin Shaffer were all honored with their parents following the win over Grand View Christian on Friday. The win is the third in a row for Albia, improving to 5-2 on the season, scoring 26 goals in seven matches including 16 during their current winning streak.

"I was very confident this season that this team could be pretty dangerous," Johnson said. "I feel like this team can give anyone a run for their money. They've found ways to battle, to take care of themselves and put themselves in position to be successful."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.