GRAND ISLAND -- Lucas Venegas couldn’t find a way to get a good night’s sleep prior to Grand Island Senior High’s Class A, District 2 championship match against Omaha Burke.
The Bulldogs probably don’t want to think what would have happened if Venegas had played Thursday at Memorial Stadium while being well rested.
The junior forward scored four times to lead the No. 1-rated Islanders (18-0) to a 5-1 victory.
“Last night I couldn’t sleep,” Venegas said. “I was just focusing on playing my personal game and focusing on playing as a team.
“All the credit goes to my teammates. They set me up with great passes.”
Burke (7-9) kept the game interesting by generating some solid scoring chances throughout. Logan Gier broke through – literally – to pull the Bulldogs within 2-1 at 56:59.
He bulled through a collision to the ball and sent a shot past goalkeeper Omar Torres.
Then Venegas became Omaha Burke’s nightmare. He scored three times in a span of 9:54 starting at the 69:45 mark to seal the win.
“Lucas just took the game over,” G.I. coach Jeremy Jensen said. “What a fantastic job by that kid. He was unstoppable, literally.
“He had four goals and other opportunities. In addition to that, he had at least three or four times where he put the ball right across the 18 (yard box) for somebody to run onto and we just didn’t execute. He very easily could have had three or four assists to go with those goals.”
Venegas also opened the scoring at 16:39 when Foxter Pineda slid a pass ahead to him right in front of the box, and Venegas angled a shot into the bottom left side of the goal.
Pineda added a goal on a 27-yard shot that stayed ahead of the fingertips of diving goalkeeper Nick Herrera at 34:21.
Jensen felt there was potential for lack of motivation entering the game. No matter the outcome, the Islanders would head into next week’s state tournament as the No. 3 seed. Kearney passed up G.I. in the power-point standings over the course of district play while defending champ Omaha Creighton Prep remained No. 1.
“We had a tough task today because, win or lose, we were going to be the three seed,” he said. “We started out with a couple goals and kind of fell back as far as the excitement level.
“The kids got into a bit of a lull and after (Burke) scored, the energy level went back up.”
For the second straight year, the Islanders enter the state tournament undefeated. But this year’s squad has quite a different look after getting hit hard by graduation last spring.
“Last year’s team we had such dynamic scoring, and we felt like that was going to be tough to replace,” Jensen said. “When you lose (Logan) Mendez, Hector (Gutierrez) and (David) Torres and some of those kids who could really put the ball in the net, we were thinking this year if we could score 60 goals over the course of the year we’d be doing really well.
“We’re pushing 90 right now and we’ve gone past what we scored last year. That’s been a real positive thing for us.”
Venegas was confident that the offensive firepower wouldn’t suffer a huge dropoff.
“I think a lot of people doubted us going into this season because we lost Logan, we lost David Torres, we lost Hector,” he said. “Those guys were huge for us, but I felt we had the capability. We proved everyone wrong, and it’s great.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a bunch of talented players. We knew we had to finish. There are days that we don’t finish as well as we should, but when we play like this, no one can stop us.”
The Venegas-led scoring explosion in the final 10:15 against Omaha Burke was a prime example of what the Islanders’ offense is capable of, Jensen said.
“I wouldn’t want to play against us and I certainly wouldn’t want to coach against us,” he said. “Our kids have an innate ability to lull the other team to sleep and then all of a sudden smacking them two or three times real quick.
“It’s partially the tactical way that we play it. That’s what we want to do. Every practice we work exclusively on counterattacks. When they execute with the quick passing game, it’s tough to control Venegas when he gets to space.”
Midfielder Carl Kristiansson, a foreign-exchange student from Sweden, said the team chemistry has been a big part of the Islanders’ success throughout the season.
“We’re really good friends,” he said. “We like each other and we don’t look down on each other. We are a team, not just a bunch of players.”
And despite being the only undefeated soccer team left in the state, the Grand Island coaches and players are still striving to get better before the state tournament, which begins Thursday at Creighton University’s Morrison Stadium. As the No. 3 seed, Grand Island will play a 3 p.m. game.
“We’ve just got to keep getting better,” Jensen said. “I know it’s cliché, but if you look at our roster, we have two seniors and one foreign exchange student. We have a lot of young kids, and even in this type of game, we have freshmen out there playing pretty significant minutes.
“They might only be five or 10 minute shifts, but they’re pretty darn important. When we get out to Creighton, that’s a huge stadium. The field is 12 yards wider than (Memorial Stadium), and last year in the first game we really ran ourselves into the turf the first 20 minutes.”
Kristiansson echoed his coach: “We can always get better. We played well today, but there are always things we can work on.”