Archive for Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Opinion: Knipp’s run followed closely

November 1, 2006

Every once in a while records are broken by athletes who don't deserve them.

Maranatha Academy graduate Jon Lemmon is not one of them.

After breaking the state's goal-scoring record in the fall of 2003, Lemmon flashed a snazzy smile and continued on with his business in a 12-0 postseason victory over Bishop Seabury.

That humility was nothing compared to the way Lemmon handled hearing the news that his record -- 96 career goals -- was broken a week ago by Basehor-Linwood High School senior Austin Knipp.

"Anyone who scores that many goals has be a good player and obviously has a lot of skill," said Lemmon, currently a sophomore soccer player at Mid-America Nazarene University. "I didn't figure my record would last forever. I knew eventually somebody would break it. But hearing that Austin did, just made me want to go watch him play."

Knipp moved ahead of Lemmon on Tuesday, Oct. 24, scoring goal No. 97 of his career 30 seconds into the second half of Basehor-Linwood's 6-0 victory over Eudora.

Three nights later, against De Soto, Knipp tacked on two more goals, moving him to 99 and his team into the 1-4A quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

The story of Austin Knipp and Jon Lemmon is actually quite remarkable. In more ways than their uncanny ability to bury a ball in the back of a net, the two players remind me a lot of each other.

Both play the game the way it should be played -- with poise, endless effort and respect. Both take advantage of their opportunities. You don't approach 100 career goals by blowing chances. And both are just as happy to be out of the spotlight as in it.

But beyond that, these two soccer standouts remind me of each other because they take the field with one thing on their minds -- winning.

Yep, it's winning -- not scoring goals or setting records -- that drives these two players.

And in a lot of ways, it's their desire to win that led to their records.

"We wanted to win and I wanted to score goals to help my team win," Lemmon said. "Once I got close to the record, I guess in the back of my mind I didn't want to be the guy who fell one goal short of the state record. But I always tried to keep it in perspective and focus on what was best for the team."

That glimpse into Lemmon's mind describes Knipp perfectly.

As Knipp neared Lemmon's record -- something he didn't realize until Sentinel sports reporter Andy Marso informed him of it -- he retained his team-first attitude.

He never pressed. He never tried to do more than he was capable of. He continued to pick his spots and wait for his opportunities. It paid off.

It was the same way for Lemmon when he broke Jim McMullen's record of 93 career goals in 2003. McMullen, an Olathe North graduate who played his high school soccer from 1985-1988, set the record with a monster senior year.

In the fall of 1988, McMullen scored 44 goals in leading O-North to a state title.

Lemmon, who missed most of his junior year because of a broken leg, eclipsed McMullen's record with 39 goals as a senior and Maranatha spent most of that season ranked No. 5 in the state.

Entering Tuesday's quarterfinal contest, which ironically pitted Knipp's Bobcats against Maranatha, the Basehor-Linwood senior had tallied 34 goals and led the Bobcats to their first regional championship.

Knipp tallied the lone goal during the Bobcats' 3-1 loss to the Eagles and finished the season with 35 and his career with 100.

Three great players, who enjoyed three great seasons, and all rewrote the Kansas high school record books.

McMullen once owned the single-season goals record. Knipp owns it today. And Lemmon still has the career scoring record, which includes goals and assists.

Lemmon's 96 goals and 39 assists gave him 231 points for his career. McMullen finished with 188 points and it's likely Knipp finished somewhere between 220 and 225.

"Individual honors are great," Lemmon said. "But they're really just a reflection of how good your team is. I value the cumulative scoring record because it shows I scored goals and set up my teammates, as well. But I would gladly trade any of my records for a state championship."

Today, Lemmon is in his second season with the Mid-America soccer program, where he is once again teammates with his brother, Alec. His broken leg in 2002 wasn't the only injury to plague his career.

Shortly after his senior season, Lemmon broke his back at a soccer showcase and was away from the sport for 19 months. That forced him from a Division-I scholarship to Coastal Carolina to regular student life at Johnson County Community College.

After rehab, Lemmon planned to honor his commitment to Coastal Carolina, but a broken foot kept him in Kansas.

Many athletes would look at his path after high school as a string of bad luck. But not Lemmon; by the time he landed at Mid-America, he was overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunity.

In his two seasons at MANU, Lemmon has yet to regain his deft scoring touch. In fact, he has just eight career collegiate goals and he and Alec have actually reversed roles this year.

Alec is among the team leaders in goals, with 10, and Jon has just three goals but 11 assists.

"I'm just happy to be playing again," he said. "It's almost a miracle that I was even able to."

As for his thoughts on how long Knipp will hold onto the record, Lemmon's expecting Knipp's hold on the top spot to last a little longer than his did.

"To break his record, someone's going to have to play four solid years," Lemmon said. "I wouldn't expect his record to be broken any time soon."

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