One soccer team will have to be on its game to survive a demanding Class 2A Columbia Regional, which begins Wednesday with semifinals at 5 and 7 p.m.
Monroe County powers Columbia and Waterloo could be on a collision course for the championship game, but both face tough tests in the semifinals.
Waterloo (15-3-3), the defending Class 2A state champion, will face Alton Marquette (12-6-2) in the first semifinal, followed by Columbia (15-2-4) against Triad (12-8).
Marquette didn’t play Waterloo in the regular season, but the Explorers defeated Columbia 3-0 last Tuesday on the Eagles’ Senior Night.
Columbia and Triad also didn’t meet in the regular season, but Triad earned a 3-2 victory at Waterloo on Thursday, ending the Bulldogs’ hopes of winning the Mississippi Valley Conference. Highland, intead, clinched the championship Thursday with a 2-1 win at Mascoutah. Triad had lost to Waterloo 4-1 in the teams’ previous meeting.
It all adds up to a balanced, tight regional in which all four teams are contenders for the title.
“I think it’s probably one of the toughest regionals around,” said Columbia coach Jason Mathenia, whose Eagles won the Class 1A state title in 2014. “You’ve got two state champs in the same regional and Alton Marquette has been playing well lately.
“Then there’s Triad, which has had a good year. They’re up and down, but they’ve had some decent results against some good teams.”
Semifinal winners will meet for the regional title at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Waterloo is just 2-1-2 in its last five games, which includes 3-3 ties against Jerseyville and Highland. The Bulldogs, who have played the last two games without their starting goalie, senior Trevor Coplin, are led by seniors Ben Huels (25 goals, nine assists) and Philip Most (18 goals, 14 assists). Junior Justin Kohler has 13 assists.
Marquette, which stunned Columbia in the sectional semifinals last year, has just one loss since Sept. 22, going 5-1-2 in its last seven games. One of the Explorers’ ties was against Class 3A power Edwardsville.
Senior Zach Weinman leads Marquette with 19 goals and 16 assists. Sophomore Chris Hartrich has 17 goals and 10 assists and junior Noah Fahnestock has 17 assists.
Columbia’s top players have been senior Connor Jackson (14 goals, six assists), sophomore Riley Hubler (13 goals, six assists) and junior Sam Spivey (10 goals, eight assists). Another junior, Jake Bridges, has chipped in with nine goals and seven assists for the diversified Eagles’ offense. Junior Jon Kuebler has 13 shutouts and an 0.70 goals-against average.
Triad, which also defeated Marquette 3-1 in the regular season, has won six of its last eight. Senior Chase Jones (15 goals, four assists) and junior Jaden Deatherage (12 goals, six assists) lead the Knights’ attack.
“Last year’s loss to Alton Marquette is still fresh, without a doubt. They know anything can happen,” said Mathenia, who feels fortunate to play in the second semifinal. “We’ll know who our potential opponent will be before we even kick off.
“But any one of these four teams could come out of this regional.”
The Eagles graduated 14 seniors and seemed to be heading into a rebuilding season. But that hasn’t been the case as they breezed to the Cahokia Conference title. Their first loss wasn’t until the 13th game of the season, which also was the first time they allowed a goal.
“It would definitely be meaningful,” Mathenia said of winning the regional. “I know it would mean a lot to these guys. There’s not anybody around that expected us to have the success we’ve had this year. As a team, they’ve definitely overachieved. They’ve put a lot of hard work into this. We’ve done well and will look to do the best we can in the postseason.”
Belleville East and Belleville West face difficult semifinal matches in Class 3A.
East (3-17-1), which closed its regular season Thursday with a 2-0 win at Carbondale, will face Quincy (12-5-4) at 5 p.m. Tuesday. West (5-12-3) will play Southwestern Conference rival O’Fallon (11-5-3) at 7. The winners will meet for the title at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Coach James Chambers, in his first season at East, has navigated his Lancers through the season with an inexperienced roster that lacks a true goal-scorer.
West, which lost to O’Fallon 1-0 on Sept. 27, hasn’t won since Sept. 30. But the Maroons performed well in a 2-1 loss to Edwardsville in the SWC finale last Tuesday.
Seniors Ryan Herling and Max Oplt are the Maroons’ leading goal-scorers with six apiece.
O’Fallon is 5-1-1 in its last seven games. Two of the Panthers’ victories were against Gibault and St. Louis University High, and they had a tie against Highland.
Senior Austin Wilkerson has 10 goals for O’Fallon, while sophomore Jordan Ellis has nine.
Granite City Regional
The going also could be tough in this Class 3A regional.
Granite City (5-9-6), which opened the postseason Friday with a 4-0 win over Pekin, will play Edwardsville (13-1-5) in the first semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
In the second semifinal, at 6:30, Collinsville (9-7-2) will meet Alton (14-5-2) for the second time in five days. The Kahoks defeated Alton 4-0 on Thursday to clinch the SWC championship, as seniors Sabas Avalos, Ryan Osterhout and Zach Stenger, and sophomore Logan Whitehead had goals. Senior Brett Niedzwiecki is perhaps the best goalie in the metro-east.
The regional-title game is at 5 p.m. Friday.
Edwardsville defeated Collinsville in the regular season, but tied Granite City and Alton. Junior Alec Mills (eight goals, three assists) and senior Michael Glisson (seven goals) lead the Tigers. Senior midfielder Mohamad Hasan is one of the fastest players in the area, and senior goalkeeper Daniel Pichiotti has 11 shutouts.
Senior Lucas Rainwater has seven goals and 10 assists for Granite City. Seniors Sam Ortiz and Nathan Tanthavong have five goals apiece.
In another Class 2A regional, red-hot Highland will play MVC opponent Jerseyville at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A victory would send the Bulldogs (13-4-3) into the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the other regional between Jacksonville and Civic Memorial.
Highland is 8-1-2 in its last 11 games. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since Sept. 30.
Junior Evan Herman has 13 goals and six assists and senior Brent Rapien has nine goals and four assists for the Bulldogs, who defeated Jerseyville (14-7-1) twice in the regular season.