Come match time, Corey Kemp runs tirelessly from one end of the field and one side of the field to the other with reckless abandon. But once play concludes and handshakes are exchanged, the Nixa junior forward is usually the first Eagle to fall to the turf.
Kemp doesn’t wear himself out as much as he’s simply overwhelmed with relief to finally get to rest his knees. Over the past year, due to a growth spurt he’s developed Osgood-Schlatter Disease.
“My knees have been killing me and when I play basketball on a hardwood floor, that doesn’t help,” Kemp said. “This summer, it really hit me. It hurts more when I come to a complete stop and try to turn around. I can feel the pressure and it makes me tense up. But I’m able to play through it and I’m grateful for that. I ice them, stretch, take Ibuprofen and get ready for the next day.”
Kemp enjoyed a reprieve from his pain while relishing the winning feeling of an assist in Nixa’s 1-0 triumph at Springfield Catholic on Thursday. He delivered a cross to teammate Andrew Butler a few minutes into the second half.
That was enough for the Eagles (11-4), as they won their eighth straight and posted their fourth shutout in a row.
Kemp chased down a loose ball and with a defender beside him raced to the left corner of the field. Without looking, he booted the ball toward the box and right to Butler, who finished things off for his career-high 11th goal on the season.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know that was going to anyone,” Kemp said of his pass. “I just kicked it and was hoping someone was there. Andrew was able to find the ball. I did think someone was probably going to be in the box because we had a ton of people running down the field. I checked over my shoulder before I touched (the ball) forward and saw we had at least three people running downfield.”
“He knew people were making runs because we do a lot of practicing where we get the ball to the wings and then playing it across,” Butler said. “When he went to the corner, I had a feeling he would probably get a cross off. I knew I had to make a run to the front post. Sure enough, there was the ball.
“Getting a goal like that, it looks easier than it is,” he added. “A lot of pieces have to fall into place.”
Coach Evan Palmer has always liked the energy Kemp brings and notes he’s showing more accuracy on his passes, particularly with his left foot.
“We got that goal because Corey hustled to the ball,” Palmer said. “He gives us a lot of hustle. Him and the ‘back went at it, he won the ball and had a beautiful cross with his left foot. He’s worked on making his touch a lot better, so now he can compete at a high level. His speed and physicality have always been good. It was about getting good touches on the ball. We’ve been working with his left foot so much because his right foot is his dominant foot. To see a left cross from him was beautiful.”
“Last year, I was a little iffy with the ball and I still am a little bit,” Kemp said. “I don’t play a lot of soccer in the off-season. I play basketball in the summer. But I’ve gotten better with my touch.”
Nixa didn’t have many touches in the first half, as Catholic controlled the ball the great majority of the time. The Irish went a full seven minutes with the ball on their side of the field. That all changed in the second half, as the Eagles gained the upper hand and Catholic got off only one legit shot on goal against ‘keeper Logan Elmer.
“Obviously, you get tired as a game goes along. But I felt like we settled into the game we wanted to play throughout the game,” Butler said. “The way we play, the ball is more on the ground while we’re passing and moving. It’s not quite as taxing on the body. So, you can even speed up play because you don’t get as tired.”
“We started to figure things out and moved the ball around to each other more, instead of just kicking it and running,” Kemp said.
“We got stronger as the game went on,” Palmer sad. “The guys coming off the bench gave us good minutes, too. We’ve got to have those guys coming off the bench. When they come in and do great things, it makes us a much better team.”
The Eagles’ four straight shutouts would be a school record at quite a few schools. It’s the longest such streak Nixa has enjoyed in 10 years, but not a record.
The Eagles’ 24-win team in 2011 enjoyed a stretch of nine shutouts in a row and 19 shutouts overall on their way to state quarterfinal round. The Eagles’ 25-win team in 2015 had 11 shutouts, but never more than two in a row on their way to state semifinals.
Nixa has not allowed a goal this month and the Eagles have yielded just one goal in six matches since Sept. 23. All this from a bunch that gave up 10 goals in its first four matches.
“I knew our defenders had this in them from the beginning,” Butler said. “We had a rocky start, the whole team had a rocky start. We’re settling into our game now.”
“Our team defense has been incredible,” Palmer said. “We have put people in the right spots and they’ve worked into the system we want. We’re still working on getting a few more goals.”