Boys soccer: Elks earn way to state final four

Centerville senior Caleb McComas (right) possesses the ball against St. Xavier during Saturday's Division I regional final. CONTRIBUTED

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Centerville senior Caleb McComas (right) possesses the ball against St. Xavier during Saturday's Division I regional final. CONTRIBUTED

The Centerville boys soccer team is not surprised to be back in the state tournament for the first time since 2010. But they sure had to earn it.

In the Division I regional semifinal against Cincinnati Anderson, Jack Drabenstott scored the winner with two minutes before the game would have been decided by penalty kicks. With that 3-2 victory, the Elks advanced to a rematch of last year’s regional final against Cincinnati St. Xavier.

The Elks avenged that 4-1 loss last year with a 4-1 win on Oct. 2.

“I was nervous going into that game,” Elks coach Jeff Monbeck said of the regional final. “We beat them 4-1 and handily beat them. We were up 3-0. So kids going into a match like that they might be thinking, ‘We’ve already won. We beat them already.’”

The Elks were also on a two-and-a-half day turnaround after seven starters had played 110 minutes.

“To be honest, that game took a lot out of us,” Monbeck said. “It’s fun to win in that moment, but when the excitement wears down and you’re on the bus ride it’s just exhausting. I’m 42 years old and I don’t think my heart could handle another one like that.”

On Saturday, Monbeck’s heart was pushed again. The Elks went up 2-1 early in the second and had a penalty kick chance with 11 minutes to go, but the St. X goalkeeper stopped the shot.

After the overtimes, it was all about the goalkeepers. And Centerville sophomore Luke Shrivers made the final save on the eighth penalty kick to end the game and send the Elks (19-1-1) to their 14th final four.

The opponent, for the first time in program history, is Dublin Jerome (12-7-1), a team on an unexpected roll after being seeded ninth in the Central District. The teams meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Zane Trace High School in Chillicothe.

“I think they’re a lot like us in how they play and no real stars other than the goalkeeper,” Monbeck said. “But you get this far it’s going to be a game.”

If the Elks win, they will advance to Saturday’s final at Field in Columbus against then winner of Cleveland St. Ignatius (19-0) and Avon (16-2-2). St. Ignatius is a nine-time champion since 2000 and is the top-ranked team in the nation.

Centerville holds its own place in state lore. The Elks have 719 victories for the most by any program, boys or girls. They have won 16 regional titles, including in 1973 and 1974 in tournaments run by the state coaches association before the OHSAA sponsored a state tournament.

In the Elks’ soccer room, a board on the wall is a history lesson for all the players who pass through. Next to each year is a place to list each team as a GWOC champ, district champ, regional champ, state finalist and state champ. The state champ column only has 1984 in it and the state finalist column is looking for its eighth member.

“A lot of people from 1973 to today have been a part of building the culture here and setting the standard,” Monbeck said. “We try to stress that leaving your own legacy is important. A win on Wednesday is another legacy.”

Monbeck has been a part of the legacy since he played for the Elks from 1995-97 and was a state finalist in 1996. His coach, the late Brian Stevens, gave Monbeck his first coaching job with JV B team for two years in the early 2000s. After coaching club teams, he returned to his alma mater as head coach in 2014.

After Saturday’s win over St. X, Monbeck got a message on Twitter from Stevens’ son, whom he has never met. The message was that his dad would be proud of what Monbeck and his team have accomplished.

“It means the world to people who were here before me and laid the groundwork and the framework for this program,” Monbeck said. “I don’t take it lightly the opportunity to be here. I just have a great group of kids – all 24 of them.”

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