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      Something old, something new

      After doing my "job" for more than 30 years, I've picked up on something.

      Your chances of winning are greatly improved when the other team doesn't score.

      That, sports fans, is what you would call insight.

      And that's why they pay me the big bucks.

      The Jefferson City Lady Jays soccer team has an astounding 19 shutouts this season --- 16 by Becca Sturgess and three by Megan Foster --- and that, not surprisingly, has carried the team to their first appearance in Final Four.

      Their scoring margin this season? A tidy 82-14.

      "We're just blessed that we have two really good keepers," Lady Jays coach Eddie Horn said. "But our defense, we expect everybody to defend. It all starts with defense ... like the old adage says, offense wins games, defense wins championships.

      "I'm a believer in that."

      Horn has been a part of the soccer programs at the school since 1990, including the start of the girls program in 1991. He led the Jays to the Final Four in 1998 and has been a part of that program for 24 years.

      With the Lady Jays, he's been the coach off and on for 12 seasons, but this is his first season in 11 years.

      "I came in and changed some things around and at first, the girls were you kind of looking at me and saying: 'We were kind of good last year, what are we changing it for?" Horn said.

      "But as the season progressed, they saw it was a good style, a different style, and they started buying into it and believing more and more.

      "The next thing you know, we're in the Final Four."

      But the fifth-ranked Lady Jays (22-4-1) will certainly have their hands full in the Class 3 semifinals, as they'll face top-ranked St. Teresa's Academy (21-0) at 4 p.m. Friday in Blue Springs.

      And when I say top-ranked, I REALLY mean top-ranked --- not just in Missouri, but in the nation.

      "There's a reason why they're No. 1 in the nation, they're really, really good, with a bunch of Division I players," Horn said. "They're just unbelievable."

      St. Teresa junior Dorrian Bailey is Missouri's soccer equivalent of basketball superstarã??Napheesa Collier. If you don't know who Bailey and Collier are, Google them. You'll see.

      They're both beyond special.

      Jefferson City has its own firepower inã??sophomore Sarah Luebbert (17 goals, 21 assists) and junior Eden Hoogveld (15, four).

      But this will be a tall hill to climb.

      "Our goal is to make it 20 shutouts and not to focus on them being No. 1 in the nation with all these great players," Horn said. "We'll have to play a little conservative and defend and the longer it stays 0-0, the better our chances are.

      "Then, hopefully, we can make a goal, somehow, and make it stand up."


      THE LADY JAYS are just one Jefferson City team heading to the Final Four.ã??They would be the "something new."

      Something old? This is the third straight trip for the Helias Lady Crusaders to the Class 2 semifinals.

      "It's been a great season," second-year Helias coach Brad Dempsey said. "We knew going in our schedule was going to be very difficult and we were going to have ups and downs. Our focus was not going to be on the record, we've lost eight games, our focus was going to be on learning how to play, how to beat, the great teams we were going to have to face down the road.

      "Our girls never got down, they continued to work hard. They had faith in the process."

      Last year, the Lady Crusaders fell in the finals and finished second. Two years ago, they finished third after losing in the semifinals.

      Both of those losses were to two-time defending state champion St. Dominic. Good news, Helias fans --- St. Dominic isn't there this year.

      "Their not being there just means they're not at the top of the class this year," Dempsey said. "But they gave us a pretty good whipping; they have our number.

      "But Kearney, from what I've seen, if they're not the top team in the state, they're in the top two. They're loaded."

      Helias (19-8-1) will clash with Kearney (22-3-2) --- two teams who are tied for fifth in the most recent state poll --- at noon Friday in Blue Springs. The other semifinal will pit unranked Rosati-Kain (14-13) against top-ranked Visitation (19-3-2).

      Junior keeperã??Sydnee Kliethermes has led this Helias charge, but she's gotten plenty of help.ã??She has 11 shutouts this season and is giving up less than one goal per game.

      "She's very athletic and she's become a leader," Dempsey said. "And the defense in front of her, she has a great trust in them. We have a great defensive back line, I think one of the best around."

      The team's leading scorers areã??seniors Becky Roberts (31 goals, 13 assists),ã??Jordan Poire, (16, 12) andã??Tiffany Weaver, (14, 13).

      If you weren't sure, those are video-game numbers.

      "Those numbers are ridiculous," Dempsey said, "especially when you consider the schedule we played."

      Just getting to the Final Four, however, is no longer the goal.

      "We feel really great going into this weekend," Dempsey said. "We're going to give every ounce of energy we have, and then whatever happens, happens.

      "This is three different teams that have gone to the Final Four. The thing I think that's most different about this year, we're not just going there to see what happens.

      "This year, we know we have an opportunity to come out on top."

      As do both teams, and these teams have a chance to make history for the Capital City --- again. Back in 1984, both Jefferson City and Helias won state football championships on the same weekend.

      That was a first for our schools and it hasn't happened since.

      City of Champions.

      "It's really exciting and who would have thunk it? To get two teams there, you have to give a lot of credit to the soccer community in Jeff City," Horn said.ã??"If we both somehow won it, that would be unbelievable."


      "I know our community, our schools, would take that any day," Dempsey said. "That would be awesome.ã??Hopefully, somebody around here would throw one, big party to celebrate it."