For 25 years St. Thomas Aquinas and Rockhurst soccer have met in the Top Dawg Tournament hosted by Blue Valley Northwest, which also includes the Huskies and Blue Valley.
This year, Aquinas and Blue Valley didn’t participate allowing the Saints’ rivalry with Rockhurst to return to the campuses.
St. Thomas Aquinas coach Craig Ewing knew it was going to be a face-paced, physical game against a team, three weeks ago, who was No. 1 in the country.
“To get this kind of a crowd on a Tuesday night is fantastic,” Ewing said. “We scored some nice goals and held them out.”
An estimated 2,000 were on hand to witness Aquinas’ 3-1 victory and a jaw-dropping goal from senior defender Matt Ewert.
Ewert opened the scoring with a diving header from six yards out off a Joey Caragher corner kick with 19:53 left in the first half.
“He was recently reinserted into the starting lineup,” Ewert said. “He has made such a difference because of his love to play. You saw it, he goes to ground to head the ball. That was a fantastic goal.”
While senior forward Sam Gasparovich scored the game-winning goal on a half volley from 13 yards out, it was senior defender Cole Giess, who — two minutes after Gasparovich’s goal — cemented the victory with 28:11 left in the game.
“It gave us some intensity to finish the game out because I thought we were getting a little tired,” Gasparovich said of his goal.
The Saints came out hard in the first 10 minutes of the second half after Rockhurst leveled the game with 3:48 left in the game off a questionable goal by senior forward Matt Smith.
Senior midfielder Gianni Catenacci swung in a corner kick to the back post, which senior defender Camden Schieffer headed back across the front of the goal to Smith, who put it in the open net. However, Smith appeared to be in an offside position, but the assistant referee kept his flag down.
“I think Cole’s goal sealed the deal,” Gasparovich said.
A hard foul by Rockhurt’s Michael Rall, set up an Aquinas set piece from 30 yards out.
Senior defender Andrew Wherry bent in a ball toward the back post, which fell three yards in front of the net.
Giess one-timed it on the short hop into the back of the net.
— Mike Lavieri (@MikeLavieri) October 12, 2016
It’s a stark contrast of a season ago when Rockhurst defeated the Saints 4-0.
“Last year we got of to such a bad start against them,” Ewing said. “We were too soft and they got a couple of goals in the first 10 minutes against us. It was a completely mindset (tonight).”
Last night was just the start of the gauntlet for St. Thomas Aquinas, who plays Blue Valley West tomorrow for the Eastern Kansas League title. On Saturday, the Saints will play Olathe East, the No. 9 team in the country, before finishing the season against Lee’s Summit North.
Rockhurst coach Chris Lawson liked playing Aquinas at Top Dawg, but knows it’s great to just be able to play them at any point in the season.
The Hawklets, who have since fallen out of the national ranks, know their schedule will prepare them for the state tournament.
“To have that many people out here to cheer their teammates on is always special,” Lawson said.