Throughout the years, Caleb Kissinger and his soccer friends have played a big role in increasing the sport’s popularity in Kerrville.
They were members of Hill Country Crush Soccer Academy, one of Kerrville’s first select soccer teams. At Tivy, they led the Antlers to two consecutive district titles and propelled them to the regional semifinals in 2019. Furthermore, they gave local residents more reasons to follow college soccer.
Former Tivy goalkeeper Stephen Canty became the first player in school history to play Div. I soccer when he signed with SMU. His teammate Jasen Zirkel decided to play at Mary Hardin-Baylor.
And for the last 6six weeks, Zirkel and his former Tivy teammates have entertained soccer fans while competing in the City of Kerrville Adult Soccer League, during a time where there have been few entertainment options in the community. They even created an entertaining team name for the league: The Corona Cowboys.
On Tuesday, the Corona Cowboys secured a 3-1 win over Antlers FC in the semifinals at the Kerrville Sports Complex. On Thursday, They will play in the championship against Palermo, who defeated the Wee Lads, 3-2, in its semifinal contest.
Despite their many accomplishments, Kissinger and his teammates have never won a championship during their years playing together. They are hoping that changes Thursday night.
“Here is our chance to go to the championship game with the Tivy players you have played with throughout the years,” Kissinger said. ““I am looking at it as if we are playing in the state championship of high school.”
When Zirkel overheard this, he simply shook his head and laughed as he untied his shoes.
“Eh, that might be a bit much,” Zirkel said.
Still, winning a city league championship would be an impressive accomplishment. With college players, former college players and high school athletes all participating, the league has consistently offered a quality product this summer.
It’s not surprising, then, that it has attracted a strong following. More than 100 people attended Tuesday’s semifinals contests, spreading out in lawn chairs to watch the matches.
The Corona Cowboys are hoping to draw an even larger crowd for Thursday’s match.
“The cool thing about soccer in Kerrville is that it’s a pretty tight-knit community — everybody knows everybody,” said sports complex manager Shane Heffernan, who coached the Corona Cowboys when they were members of Kerrville Crush. “For the college guys who are in town, it has given them something to do. With the current situation of coronavirus, there’s not a lot to do. Sports are starting to come back, but it’s a slow-turning wheel. It’s this big extended family of people who get to come back out here.
“It’s all fun. It’s good, everyone is working hard. You see guys who are in shape. You see guys who are out of shape like myself. It’s fun. Everyone has a good time.”
The Corona Cowboys certainly had a good time on Tuesday. To advance to the championship, they had to defeat the Antlers’ current soccer players, the same players they mentored when they attended Tivy. After a year in college, most of the Corona Cowboys admit they aren’t in the best of shape. Still, experience prevailed on Tuesday.
Chuy Mejia scored in the opening minutes. Alex Gutierrez, who still holds the Tivy record for most single-season goals (34), netted two more goals to seal the win.
But throughout the match, Antlers FC continued to push their former mentors.
“I knew them when they were freshmen, so it was cool to see them develop because they definitely have gotten a lot better since I last saw them play,” said Micah Smith, who registered 1 goal and 2 assists during his senior year at Tivy. “That was cool to see was how much they have progressed throughout the year.”
Smith is confident the Antlers will continue to improve under Tivy soccer coach Reece Zunker’s leadership and that they will do their part to raise soccer’s profile in the community.
But at the moment, he and his teammates are focused on winning their first soccer title. They know the Adult League is mostly supposed to be fun, but they are also competitive. It’s their nature to treat every match like it’s a state championship.
“Any time playing with these guys on the team is always exciting,” Zirkel said. “Through high school and little games here and there, it’s always fun. So of course, we want to win all of our games so when we win Thursday, we will be celebrating.”