ROCK ISLAND — The Rock Island boys’ soccer team carried a “yes sir” attitude from summer conditioning all the way to its first-ever outright Western Big 6 Conference title, which the Rocks earned with a 1-0 win over Quincy at Almquist Field during senior night on Tuesday evening.
The team built on hard work, led by coach Rudy Almanza, a former Marine, has used big contributions throughout its roster en route to the current 13-game unbeaten streak.
The trend of unselfish play and lockdown defense continued on Tuesday, when Rock Island’s speedy junior defender Isaiah Kerr was thrust into a new position with fellow defender Zachary Beckman on vacation in Jamaica.
Nsengiyumva Landry went from forward to defense, and Kerr moved up to offense.
“As we’re lining up, I switched it,” Almanza said of flipping his two starters’ positions. “I knew it had to be done, and I knew Isaiah was going to do something special.”
The first-year head coach was right.
Kerr finished a ball played in by Isaac Almanza with just over a minute left until halftime. The goal was only Kerr’s second all season, and ultimately made the difference in the win.
“The pass from Isaac Almanza, I’ve got to give him credit,” Kerr said. “And Jordan Rice crashing the goal gave me an open shot to the left. I couldn’t do it without them; it’s a team goal.”
The emphasis on team has helped Rock Island (12-1-3, 7-0 Big 6) accomplish school history. The Rocks only other conference title was shared with Quincy in 2017. It was somewhat fitting that Rocky had to topple the mighty Blue Devils (10-8-3, 6-1 Big 6) the final week of league play to make it happen.
“Defense and offense, everybody can score. We’re all balanced,” Kerr said. “This is a big moment, I’m a little emotional right now.”
The Rocks recorded their 10th shutout of the season on Tuesday. Rocky keeper Ben Samuelson helped post the shutout, and recorded just a pair of saves in the win. The Rocks have only allowed six goals all season.
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“All the work that we put in since July, since June, as a team, we were confident as a team coming into this game,” said senior defender Peter Kimba. “We did this all together as a family and it was a great game. They have great competition.”
Almanza said the Rocks, who always respond to their coach with a "yes sir", also have shirts that read "To the world we're a team, to each other we're a family."
Kimba, who played football the last two years before returning to soccer to help anchor its defense, continued to credit the defense and its chemistry collectively.
“Coach Rudy has been coaching us since we were young,” Kimba said. “We have to keep our composure during every single game. Even in practice, coach Rudy says, keep your composure and don’t let anybody get to your head.”
The Rocks out-shot Quincy 10-2 in the physical contest on a windy night. Rocky also kept Quincy's conference-leading scorer Andrew VanderMaiden in check and limited his opportunities.
Quincy coach Ron Bridal said his team struggled with the challenge of Rocky’s speed and athleticism.
"They got behind our back line with their speed and created chances that put us to the test,” Bridal said. “"Through the course of the game as things settled down, we adjusted to their speed … We didn't take advantage of opportunities and we didn't create very many of those."
Quincy had a couple free kicks late, but the Rocks snuffed out the late surge and ignited the home crowd celebration. Former Rocky coach Darrick Kent was among those in attendance.
Almanza said it felt surreal to finally capture the conference in his first year as head coach. Especially seeing firsthand the route his players took coming up through club soccer.
“For them to get this win here at home — winning conference outright for the first time in history — it’s a lot of fun,” Almanza said. “They definitely deserve it due to their commitment to soccer. Years back, nobody even knew what Rock Island soccer was all about. So to put them on the map right now, it’s fun.”