Speed, proven goal-scorers and stellar defense have carried the Waterloo Bulldogs and the Springfield Senators to the Class 2A Jacksonville Super-Sectional.
The teams will match their similar skill sets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at England Stadium on the campus of Illinois College. Waterloo (22-3-1) is seeking its first trip to the state tournament since 2010 when it placed third in 2A; the Senators (21-4) were third in 2A last year.
“I know they’re a very good team,” Bulldogs coach Chad Holden said. “Some kids who played on that third-place team from last year are still with them. We know they’re going to be a handful, but that’s pretty much what you expect no matter who you play at this time (of the season).”
Waterloo reached the super-sectional with a 7-0 victory over Alton Marquette on Friday in the Columbia Sectional championship, as senior Kane Osterhage had three goals and junior Philip Most has three assists. Springfield blanked Rochester 5-0 on Wednesday to win the Urbana Sectional, sparked by two goals apiece from juniors Logan Willard and Nate Cheung.
Springfield has outscored its opponents 24-0 in the postseason.
“That’s a pretty good recipe for winning,” Senators coach Pat Phillips said.
Phillips, however, understands that Waterloo poses a unique challenge with players like Osterhage (29 goals, 18 assists), junior Ben Huels (26 goals, eight assist), senior Clay Metz (16 goals, five assists), Most (eight goals, seven assists), senior Ethan Lewis (six goals, nine assists) and junior Ryan Stites (six goals, three assists).
Fifteen different players have scored goals for the Bulldogs.
“Hopefully, we’ll be ready,” Phillips said. “They’re a quality team and they’ve been good for a while. They’re deep all over the field, from what I can see. They don’t give up much and they’ve got kids that can put the ball in the net, that’s for sure. But when you get to the final eight, I would assume everybody can play.
“With Waterloo, if you let up, they have the ability to put the ball in the net quickly.”
Springfield, which starts just three seniors, will counter Waterloo’s firepower with some dangerous players of its own led by Willard (36 goals) and Cheung (34 goals). Sophomore Kelby Phillips, meanwhile, is a top playmaker who had three assists against Rochester. He is the coach’s son.
“We’re young, but we’ve got kids who can definitely play,” Pat Phillips said. “We try to knock the ball around. In some ways, I think you’ll see similar styles between us and Waterloo. We try to play a good brand of soccer. We don’t want to be one-dimensional by any means.”
Holden said the Bulldogs must be aware of Willard and Cheung but also emphasizes that sticking to their season-long game plan will be key.
“They’re quick, very talented and very experienced,” Holden said. “(But) we just want to play our game. It’s worked for us so far.”
Don’t forget the ‘D’
Holden points out that although the Bulldogs’ offense garners most of the attention, their defense has helped set the table by serving balls to the midfield.
Waterloo’s starting keeper, junior Trevor Coplin, owns 13 shutouts and a 0.59 goals-against average behind a defense led by seniors Chase Rubemeyer and Drew Kaiping and juniors Drew Marshall and Griffin Lenhardt.
“This defense has done a great job also,” Holden said. “They’ve not given teams many shots or good looks (at the goal). They’ve been a huge part of our success. They’re physical guys who have made some great runs from the back. They’re the ones who start the attack for us. They win a lot of 50-50 balls.”
Lenhardt has two goals and seven assists out of the backfield; Rubemeyer has five assists.
Waterloo will be leaving the metro-east for the second time in three rounds of the postseason. The Bulldogs won the Carbondale Regional, then came back to Monroe County to claim the sectional title in Columbia. Now it’s off to Jacksonville, which for the Bulldogs will be a 150-mile journey.
“The school has supplied us with a nice coach (bus), so that’s really nice,” Holden said. “We have a bus that makes it pretty comfy for us. Jacksonville is about 2 hours, and 15 minutes, 2 1/2 hours from here. Hopefully, a lot of our kids can still make it up there. We have a fan bus going up. That’s definitely a little further than Columbia.”
If Waterloo is fortunate enough to defeat Springfield, the trip to the state tournament at Hoffman Estates High School will cover 320 miles.
“You want to get (to state) every year if you can,” Holden said. “Some of these seniors have been starting since their freshman year. We had big plans for them, and they’ve come through for us this year. We knew it was a special group and they’re still proving it. We’ve had a good run and we want it to continue.”
The Bulldogs’ semifinal opponent at state, at 11 a.m. Friday, would be Mundelein Carmel (17-7-1) or Elmwood Park (17-4). Carmel and Elmwood Park meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Maine South Super-Sectional.