Gibault goalkeeper Connor Olson is a sophomore but he doesn’t play like one.
He doesn’t sound like one, either.
Olson stepped up verbally and physically when his team needed him the most Friday. He made seven tough saves in the first half and consistently exhorted his older teammates to play better.
The Hawks did just that, getting second-half goals from Karson Huels and Ryan Swindle to stun Wheaton Academy 2-1 in a Class 2A state semifinal at Hoffman Estates High School.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Gibault (18-6-3) will play for the state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday against Solorio Academy, which defeated St. Patrick 1-0 in the other semifinal. The Hawks are seeking their fifth state title, but their first in 2A. The previous four came in 1A.
“Everyone forgets we’re only a school of 230 people,” Olson said. “We’re out here playing with (schools) with 1,000 kids and even more and just battling and trying to pull it out. We did today.”
The Hawks could not have done it without Olson, who stood tall and often dived headlong during a first-half barrage by Wheaton Academy (23-5).
The Warriors came into the game with a vastly superior offense and a 16-game winning streak. They outshot the Hawks 17-1 before intermission.
“They possess very well,” first-year Gibault coach Darryn Haudrich said. “They are very technically and tactically sound. They move the ball, they are quick, they’re dangerous and they were coming in flows.
“There’s no doubt that first half they outplayed us. We narrowly escaped some other very quality opportunities for them.”
Wheaton took a 1-0 lead on Seamus Kilgallon’s rebound goal at the 19:10 mark but failed to add to that cushion. Olson made two reflex saves on headers by Wheaton star Luke Holwerda, who had 32 goals and 15 assists this season.
Olson also denied Kilgallon with a kick save on a breakaway and deflected another Holwerda shot with 7:30 to go. Quinn Partain got to the rebound of the latter opportunity but his shot was kicked off the line by Gibault defender Aaron Grohmann.
“It was around me a little bit so I had to settle in real fast,” Olson said. “It’s kind of like select soccer.
“I’m used to these high-impact, high-reward games so even though I’m a sophomore, I was settled down and getting on the juniors and seniors, trying to help us out.”
Olson’s play fired up Gibault’s defenders and they in turn kept him on top of his game.
“They’re always on me to keep us up, keep us going, so every time I make a big save, they’ll come over (and say) good job, all that, and keep my head up,” Olson said. “As long as I keep their heads up, (we) help each other out.”
Given the reprieve, the Hawks began the second half in a more aggressive mood. They tied the game on a penalty kick by Huels with 31:31 remaining and began to control the action after that.
“I would say that being down at half is a very foreign concept for us,” Haudrich said. “We’ve either been in the lead or been tied in the postseason. I told the boys that we needed to be resilient, find a way to stick to our game plan and step up our tempo.”
But the decisive goal came from an unlikely source. Wheaton goalkeeper JD Gunn made a diving save on a shot in traffic but gave up a rebound and Swindle pounced, ripping a 10-yard shot that deflected off Gunn and the underside of the crossbar with 5:22 left.
It was Swindle’s third goal of the season and by far his most important.
“Someone else shot the ball and it got blocked,” Swindle said. “It bounced back in the air and I just took a touch to make myself a shooting lane and put it on frame.
“It’s very exciting because I myself am not much of a goal scorer. To score in such a big game like this is very exciting.”
Haudrich was thrilled for his junior midfielder.
“I want to give a lot of credit to him because he stayed very composed,” Haudrich said. “In a moment like that there are a lot of players who get frantic and would hit over or hit it wide.
“Ryan is one of those players where you almost have to check his pulse sometimes when he’s playing because he stays so composed. That’s exactly what you need in a championship-caliber team and we’re fortunate to have him. He finished in a big moment and I’m very proud of him.”