Jake Garner’s animated and enthusiastic smile that was missing last month returned in Ozark’s 3-1 Class 4 District 5 final win versus Nixa on Monday, after he posted what proved to be the winning goal.
Garner immediately looked for teammate Phin Scott and upon turning to his left and finding him, made a beeline to him so they could celebrate.
“He came to me pretty fast,” Scott said. “We have a ritual where after either one of us scores, we like to do a signature handshake.”
“That's my guy. Phin and I have been friends since elementary school and been through it together in soccer and basketball,” Garner said.
Garner has recently started another ritual in remembrance of his grandparents, Bob and Brenda Loewe. They passed away eight days apart over the final two weeks of October.
“At the beginning of each game, I do a little look up to the sky. It's special and bittersweet,” Garner said. “I know they are here watching over me.”
The Loewes supported Jake and his sister, Laine, over the years at soccer and basketball games, as well as cross country meets.
“They were big soccer fans,” Jake said. “They were at most games. They were special people.”
Garner’s grief was shared by his teammates.
“It was devastating,” Scott said. “They had come to a lot of our games and talked to us afterward.”
“It was tough to see Jake upset,” fellow senior Caleb Lepant said. “I think it's been important that he’s around his friends and brothers. As a team, we’ve built him up.”
Garner has drawn comfort knowing his grandparents were reunited. They were married 56 years after meeting in Nebraska and settling down in Galena.
“It's a love story,” Jake said. “They were ready to be together.”
Garner’s story is also that of a selfless player with the reputation of drawing as much joy from his teammates’ success as his own. Little wonder he’s very popular among both Ozark’s soccer and basketball teams.
“If my teammates are doing good, most of the time that means we're winning, and as long as we're winning, I don't care about anything else,” Garner said.
“He's a team player, always setting stuff up for people,” Scott said. “I like watching him have success, too.”
Garner was glad to do his part in Ozark’s win versus Nixa. He was looking for redemption and earned it.
“I didn't feel like I played very well in the Kickapoo (semifinal) game,” Garner said. “To be able to come back and get that goal was special.”
“He was on fire tonight,” Lepant said, noting one of his two goals came off a Garner assist. “If he's on that front post and you find him he's going to put it in.”
Garner is also beloved by Ozark’s coaches.
“He’s a guy you can joke around with,” Tigers coach Zack Owens said. “He's a lot of fun. He's also super competitive. He thinks he could jump 40 feet off of a building and not even hurt his legs. We argue about that all the time.
“He's a big motivator and a very positive guy,” Owens added. “For him to persevere through everything and still come out here and be a leader for us, it speaks to what a great family he comes from and who he is as a person.”