Qualifying for the Class 1A boys state soccer tournament is an annual objective for the Gibault Hawks.
The Hawks (10-7-1) seem poised to make a run for the tournament after playing a rigorous schedule that included games against all seven Southwestern Conference teams.
Coach Matt Reeb’s team won the Class 1A state championship in 2013 and will begin its postseason trek as the No. 1 seed in the Freeburg Regional with a game against eighth-seeded Lebanon (3-13-1) at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
A victory would send Gibault into the regional championship at 1 p.m. Saturday against fourth-seeded Freeburg (8-10-2) or fifth-seeded Father McGivney (11-5-4), who meet in the other semifinal at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The regional champion advances to the Gibault Sectional on Oct. 18 at Oerter Park in Columbia and will face the winner of the Massac County Regional.
Gibault has won six of its last eight games, with four of the wins coming against Granite City, Belleville East, Althoff and Collinsville. One of the losses was to O’Fallon, a 1-0 decision Thursday that looked all the better Friday when O’Fallon outscored St. Louis University High 4-2.
“We’ve been playing pretty well lately,” Reeb said. “We’ve had some good results. This is why we play the schedule that we do. We challenge ourselves all regular season long so that we’re prepared for the postseason. The goal is to make it a long postseason run.”
While the Hawks are the class of the regional, the same mantra applies entering every postseason.
“You can’t overlook anybody,” Reeb said. “At this time of year, there’s nobody that you can say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s going to be a win.’ You slip up now, the season’s over with. We’ve got to come ready to play each and every game. We’re going to be the hunted every single game. (Teams) want to take down Gibault. We’ve got to be prepared for everybody’s best shot.”
Seniors Ben Mueth (17 goals, eight assists) and Dalton Scace (eight goals, seven assists) lead Gibault’s attack, with help from senior Kyle Rocca (six goals, five assists) and sophomore Karson Huels (five goals, eight assists). Senior Trevor Davis has 13 shutouts in goal, including nine solos.
The Hawks reached the sectional last year and lost to Anna-Jonesboro 1-0 after defeating the Wildcats 6-2 in the regular season. In 2014, Gibault lost to Columbia 1-0 in the regional semifinals, and the Eagles went on to win the Class 1A state title that the Hawks had earned the previous year.
“When you play at Gibault, (state) is a reachable goal,” Reeb said. “It’s not like it’s something that can’t be reached or an unattainable goal. It becomes kind of the standard goal we set each year. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But all the kids are desiring to reach the state tournament.”
Freeburg and Father McGivney tied 2-2 in the regular season Sept. 13 at Father McGivney. Junior Eli Skubish leads Father McGivney with 28 goals. Freeburg is led by senior Shawn Morrison (13 goals, six assists) and sophomore Noah Williams (10 goals, 11 assists).
Althoff (7-11-2) is the No. 2 seed in the Class 1A Greenville Regional and will play the host Comets, seeded seventh, in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The Crusaders won the Greenville Regional last season.
In the other semifinal, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, third-seeded Wood River will play sixth-seeded Metro-East Lutheran. The regional-championship game will be at 4 p.m. Friday.
The Greenville Regional champion will move on to the Gibault Sectional and face the winner of the Carlyle Regional on Oct. 18.
Althoff, led by first-year coach Skip Birdsong, has received nine goals and six assists from senior Stephen Waltrip and six goals and six assists from junior Jimmy Monken.
Mater Dei (11-6-2) will try to defend its No. 1 see in the Class 1A Carlyle Regional when it plays eighth-seeded Centralia Christ Our Rock Lutheran at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The Knights have won four in a row and are unbeaten in their last five. They haven’t permitted a goal since a 1-0 loss to defending Class 2A state champion Waterloo on Sept. 26.
In the other semifinal, fourth-seeded Wesclin will tackle seventh-seeded Carlyle. The championship game is at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the winner advancing to play the Greenville Regional champion Oct. 18.
Mater Dei coach James Arnold said the top seed only means Mater Dei will have a target on its back.
“When you get out there, you just never know what will happen,” Arnold said. “On paper, it says one thing. Then the (opposing) team shows up and your team doesn’t show up and you’re going home.”
Senior center back Alex Loepker (12 goals, four assists) and junior Drew Toennies (nine goals, three assists) lead the Mater Dei attack. Loepker has helped the Knights tighten up their defense, but a high-ankle sprain has limited his availability.
Arnold said the Knights, who lost to Althoff in penalty kicks in the sectional semifinals last season, have about the same amount of speed this year.
“We probably possess the ball better this year than we did last year,” Arnold said. “Last year, we just kind of got it and went. We took off. This year, we knock the ball around a bit and try to draw teams out, let them do a little bit of the chasing. We’re probably a more rounded team this year, from defense to offense.”
Massac County Regional
Central (12-5-1) landed the second seed in the Class 1A Massac County Regional and will play the host Patriots at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. In the other regional, at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, third-seeded Mount Carmel will play fifth-seeded Murphysboro.
The title game is at 3 p.m. Saturday, with the winner meeting the Freeburg Regional champion Oct. 18.
Seniors Filipe Martins (14 goals, three assists) and Jensen Lake (12 goals, 12 assists), and junior Hunter Kruep (11 goals, four assists) are the Cougars’ top offensive players.