GRANITE CITY — This fall, the Columbia Eagles returned plenty of offensive punch from last year's Class 1A state championship team.
The Eagles brought back two scorers who finished in double digits in goals in 2014 —Ryan Gudeman and Cameron Roth — and one player — John Harrell — who scored two goals in last year's Class 1A championship match against Timothy Christian.
On Tuesday, the Granite City Warriors found a way to shut down the Eagles.
"We weren't too worried about what Columbia is bringing back or what they have," Granite City head coach Kenny Jackson said. "It's more about what we need to do and if we do it well, we'll be fine. We have a good team and I believe in our guys."
Granite City and Columbia finished in a 0-0 tie in the season opener for both teams at Gene Baker Field. Last year, the Warriors lost 1-0 to the Eagles.
"It was a really hard fought game," Jackson said. "Columbia is a good team. They won state last year, so we knew they had a good team coming back. They returned quite a few players. We had a tough time figuring out how to defend when they play five in the midfield and three in the middle. We made some adjustments and I thought we did pretty well.
“Obviously, we have a lot to work on, but overall, there are a lot of things that we can take away from this game that will help us get the ball in our possession and when we do, I think we're dangerous. I think we have some wingbacks and we have some center mids and some guys up top who could really give us some things going forward."
The Warriors will be facing another tough opponent on Thursday, when they play the Edwardsville Tigers in their Southwestern Conference opener on the road. The Tigers won Southwestern Conference and regional championships a year ago.
"We're looking forward to it because we're the underdogs going into it and we like an upset," Granite City senior goalkeeper Ryan Houston said. "We'll fight them. We're not going to let them win easy."
The Warriors' next home match will be on Saturday against Rochester, which won Class 2A regional and sectional titles last year and placed in the top four at state four times in the last nine seasons.
This year, the Warriors are looking to turn things around in Jackson's second season as head coach. Granite City went 2-10-6 in 2014.
Jackson said his team has a very tough schedule this season."I'm not coming out here to play cupcake teams," the Granite City coach said. "That's no fun for me. I want to challenge these kids and give them an opportunity to show what we can do in Granite City to play soccer and I thought tonight (against Columbia) was a good showing for us."
Columbia coach Jason Mathenia said he was impressed with the way the Warriors played on Tuesday.
"I thought for the first game of the year, Granite City is decent," said Mathenia, who helped Granite City win state championships as a player in 1989 and 1990. "They're very athletic. I thought they played well tonight to hold us scoreless. I thought we had some legit opportunities, but getting that first game under our belt this year, especially playing a program like Granite City was good for us tonight."
The Warriors have four seniors — Houston, Zach Druhe, Marc Prifti and Clayton Jakul — on their team. Last year, Druhe earned third-team all-conference honors.
Granite City has nine juniors, eight of them started on Tuesday.
"Through the program, we have 25 juniors total," Jackson said. "We're relying on our juniors, both at the JV and the varsity level. And they're good. They can handle it."
Houston said Tuesday's tie has given his team a boost of confidence for the rest of the season.
"After the first game of the year, we get the butterflies out of our stomachs," the Granite City senior goalkeeper said. "We'll get ready. We know how our team is going to be and we can adjust throughout the season and we'll get some wins under our belt."