A Celebration of Principia Soccer’s First Ever State Championship

All Carson Hussey could do was put his hands on his head and stand there with a blank look and a bit of a sheepish smile on his face. “I just didn’t know what to do” he told me today, “It was just almost too much to take in.”

For Principia’s senior captain and center back – who was also part of teams in 2013 and 2014 that were upset horribly in the district final – the feeling of coming up short was all too well known.

But this year was different.

I remember talking with Hussey back in early October about a fundraising event we were planning. Discussing potential weekends that we could put our event on, I suggested the weekend of November 7th – this past weekend. Hussey’s response was typical of the attitude among every player on this year’s team.

“Oh no we can’t do that weekend. That’s the weekend of state, we have to find a different one” Hussey said to me. I looked at him funny and responded, “Carson, come on. Let’s be real here, you guys aren’t going to do that.” He looked back at me and said, “We’ve got a shot, just you wait on it.”

I sit behind the keys of my computer today and proudly say to you, I was dead wrong.

Following a breezy district win, a 7-0 sectional domination, and a nail-biting win in PK’s in the state semifinal, the Panthers had a shot at winning their first soccer state title in school history – and the first state title in any team sport since 1990.

105 minutes into a game deadlocked at 1, senior captain and midfielder Cameron Sellers found himself with the ball on his right foot and junior forward Kaleb Keller making a run towards the opposing goal.

“…we both knew he was going to make a run through their defenders and I tried to give him the best ball I could” Sellers told me when I asked him what he saw on the play.

Turns out, the “best ball” that could be delivered was an absolutely perfect through ball right on Keller’s magic left foot. On two bounces, Principia’s leading scorer cut loose with the same left footed strike that he’s made thousands of times.

This one just happened to have a state title attached to it. And you had better believe Keller didn’t miss.

As soon as the ball slipped past Lutheran St. Paul goalie Harrison Boynton’s outstretched left hand and hit the back of the net, complete euphoria broke loose.

Kaleb Keller celebrates after his state title clinching goal. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Kaleb Keller celebrates after his state title clinching goal. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Keller hits a celebratory backflip following his goal. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Keller hits a celebratory backflip following his goal. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch
The Panthers celebrate around Keller after clinching the title. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch
The Panthers celebrate around Keller after clinching the title. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch

Keller hit a celebratory back flip and jumped into Sellers’ arms with the rest of the team mobbing the two of them shortly after. The Principia student section, including just about everyone with any remote affiliation with the school, was louder than just about anything I’ve ever heard.

And among all of the chaos and excitement was Hussey, standing with his hands on his head and a sheepish smile on his face, just in complete disbelief of what had just happened. As the rest of the team sprinted over to jump into the student section to celebrate, Hussey simply walked over calmly, before opening his arms up to accept a big bear hug from myself, former Principia center back Nick Klusmeyer, and former Principia midfielder Kaden Keller.

“I was in total shock” Hussey told me later, “I’m still in shock; it just seems too good to be true. It’s still a blur to me.”

Being in the crowd Saturday, I can attest to the description of the game winning goal as a blur. One second I was contemplating our chances in penalty kicks, and the next minute I was bear hugging senior forward George Agai, who looked at me beaming, and said, “We just won a state title.”

To say the least, this title has been in the making for a long, long time.

3 years ago, an extremely talented Panther team won the school’s very first district title, and looked poised to make a deep state run and possibly go all the way. Their state hopes ended in a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to Canton High School; a game in which Principia dominated, only giving up 1 shot on the night, which Canton buried in extra time for the win.

And as I referenced earlier, the past two years have featured talented teams that have been upset in brutal fashion in the district final. So to try and sum up the magnitude that this state title carries – not just for the soccer program, but for the entire school – would be doing a disservice to the team that accomplished it because no words I could ever say will do it justice.

So since I can’t do it, I’ll let Coach Kipp Keller try to do it for me. When asked about his son Kaleb’s state winning goal, Kipp stated, “Whether it’s my son or not, [that was] the greatest goal of my life. It was awesome, and I’ve been around soccer a lot of years. To pull that shot at that time, it was spectacular.”

I’ve been to a lot of sporting events in my young life. A lot of them have been very important sporting events. I sit before you today and will put my hand on the bible in saying that never, in my life, have I ever been a part of something so special and so incredible.

I’m almost at a loss for words trying to describe it all; there were just so many images that moved and inspired me and captured the essence of what had just been accomplished.

There was Hussey, walking slowly over towards the bleachers, a big smile on his face and his eyes close to tears before being buried by the hug of myself, Klusmeyer and the eldest Keller brother.

There was Sellers – along with his fellow captains, Hussey, and Kaleb Keller – lifting the state trophy; a moment Sellers described as, “a special feeling that I will always remember.”

From left to right. Kaleb Keller, Cameron Sellers and Carson Hussey lift the state title. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch
From left to right. Kaleb Keller, Cameron Sellers and Carson Hussey lift the state title. Photo by Paul Kopsky for St. Louis Post Dispatch

There was school principal and former head soccer Coach Travis Brantingham, standing on the bleachers with both arms raised in the air in a triumphant victory pose, his mouth emitting a lion-like roar of euphoria. Brantingham flew in 2 days early from a conference in Milwaukee Friday morning so as not to miss the state tournament; and I feel safe in telling you he won’t be regretting that decision anytime soon.

As I walked out, there was Heather Keller – wife of head coach Kipp, and mother of Kaleb and freshman midfielder Kippy – wrapped in a blanket, tears filling her eyes as she walked over towards where the team was celebrating to hug her boys.

There was Chris Arens – father of sophomore forward Seth Arens – who was talking with my dad when I came up and put two hands on his shoulders, asking him, “how about that?” He put an arm around my shoulders and gave me a pat on the back, completely speechless with a big smile on his face, his heart clearly enveloped in total jubilation.

There was sophomore defender Caleb Grow jumping into the arms of his older brothers Corbitt and Sawyer, screaming with joy as they pounded him on the back in joyous celebration.

Saturday afternoon was a day that will live on forever in the minds of all Principia fans in attendance, and I just can’t truly quantify the astronomical historical significance of this event in the school’s history. Quite simply, as Kaleb Keller said following his game winning goal, “It was just crazy.”

So far this year, a lot of talk around the school has been about how students can make a lasting impact upon Principia. I can safely say that the soccer team has made a tremendous impact that none of us will ever forget.

Enjoy this moment, because something like this may never happen ever again.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

A Celebration of Principia Soccer’s First Ever State Championship