Why mess with a good thing?
That’s the approach the Waterloo Bulldogs have adopted as they prepare for the Class 2A state soccer tournament this weekend at Hoffman Estates High School.
The Bulldogs (23-3-1) will face Mundelein Carmel (18-7-1) in the semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday, and their plan is to play their game and see how far it takes them.
“That’s what we’ve been doing for the most part,” 18th-year Waterloo coach Chad Holden said. “What’s gotten us this far is we’ve just played our game. We haven’t made any adjustments at all against any of the other teams; we would rather them adjust to us. I don’t see why there’s any reason to change it now.
“We’re excited that we’re there, but it’s back to business again. We’ve still got two more games. Saturday is the end of our season for this year. That’s it. We want to concentrate on these next two games and see what happens. We want to come out on a good note.”
That’s also Carmel’s objective.
“The longer the season goes, the more hyped up you get,” said fourth-year Corsairs coach Ray Krawzak, whose team defeated Elmwood Park 4-1 on Tuesday to win the Maine South Super-Sectional. “Now the end is so close. There’s really no result other than winning state that wouldn’t be a little disappointing, although we’re very happy to be where we are.”
The Bulldogs eliminated Springfield 3-0 on Tuesday in the Jacksonville Super-Sectional, and Holden anticipates Carmel being a similar opponent as the Senators in terms of tactics.
“I think it’s going to be exactly the kind of way Springfield played,” Holden said. “They were a team that liked to keep (the ball) on the ground. We don’t know a lot about them, they don’t know a lot about us. Based on what we’ve been told, it sounds like they would be a team similar to Springfield, and Springfield had some (good) players. They were unbelievable with their feet. But our height was an advantage for us.”
If Waterloo wins Friday, it will play for the championship at 1 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the other semifinal match between Peoria Notre Dame (21-1-3) and Chicago Washington (12-6-3). The third-place game is at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Scouting the Corsairs
Mundelein is powered by sophomore forward Austin Ehren (26 goals, eight assists), senior forward Scott Cloe (14 goals, eight assists) and senior midfielder Braco Lasso (five goals, team-high 11 assists). Ehren scored two goals in the super-sectional victory.
“We have a really strong leader in (senior) Ryan McKernan in the back for us,” Krawzak said. “We have a really strong senior leader in Braco Lasso. Braco is an outstanding player. He’s our (East Suburban Catholic) conference Player of the Year, all-sectional, a very talented guy. And then Scott Cloe is our senior leader up top. Having that leadership in every phase of the game gives us some depth all the way across the field.”
Krawzak called Ehren “a pure striker.”
“He has a nose for the back of the net,” Krawzak said. “He’s been performing really well throughout all the playoff games, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see another good game out of him.”
Sophomore Rob Rao (12 goals, seven assists) and junior Michael Alemu (11 goals) are other offensive threats. Alemu stands 6-foot-1 and is dangerous on set pieces. Rao is an outside midfielder who Krawzak said has the best touch on the team. Sophomore Kyle Knauer is the goalie.
Scouting the Bulldogs
Springfield coach Pat Phillips said Tuesday that Waterloo had no apparent weaknesses, and Krawzak hasn’t been able to determine any flaws, either.
Senior midfielder Kane Osterhage (30 goals, 18 assists) and junior forward Ben Huels (27 goals, eight assists) lead the attack with lots of help from senior Clay Metz (16 goals, five assists), junior Philip Most (nine goals, seven assists), senior Ethan Lewis (six goals, 10 assists) and junior Ryan Stites (six goals, three assists).
Seniors Cole Kaiping and Chase Rubemeyer and juniors Drew Marshall and Griffin Lenhardt anchor the defense in front of junior keeper Trevor Coplin. Junior midfielder Dawson Holden, the coach’s son, and junior forward Tyler Grob also are key players.
“We know they’re a big, strong team,” Krawzak said. “They’re good technically and they play a physical game. We’ve got some numbers on a couple of their kids who are particularly good. Other than that, we’re just going to go in and try to play our game, try to keep the ball on the ground, move the ball quickly and maintain possession so they don’t get a chance to use their size.
“That’s something I’m concerned about. But if we play the game we like to play and keep the ball out of the air, that kind of neutralizes whatever height advantage they’ll have over us. And we have a couple of big kids. If we put them in the right spots and they play a good game, we can keep up height-wise with a lot of people. It should be a pretty good match.”
The Bulldogs have played in moderate temperatures and calm conditions throughout the postseason, but Chicago will present a climactic challenge.
The forecast for Friday and Saturday calls for temperatures in the low 50s, but strong winds also are anticipated, which will make it feel much cooler.
“That’s one of our little concerns,” Holden said. “We’re very good with our heads, but when it gets windy, that can change the complexion of any game — for possession teams, also. We can possess the ball well, but when you get those windy days on those field-turf fields, it can make the game very interesting. Every year we’ve been up there, it’s been windy.”
Holden said the excitement level is similar to what it was five years ago when the Bulldogs placed third in the 2A tournament at North Central College in Naperville.
“The kids are really excited; we’re all excited. The whole school is,” Holden said. “It’s been a great ride but we want to keep on continuing. It’s a great experience for the kids to see everybody behind them. They deserve it. We’ve seen some great competition in the postseason, but we’re peaking at the right time. We’re playing our best soccer.”
Holden also said the Bulldogs are blessed with intangible advantages.
“For a high-school team, this is one of the most solid teams we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ve been able to overcome injuries because of our depth, they get along great, they’re a very coachable group and they’re a lot of fun. It’s been a fun, great experience all the way around, every aspect of it. We don’t have any high egos; they all complement one another.”