Ben Huels and Kane Osterhage are proving to be terrors outside of the metro-east, too.
Huels, a junior forward, had three goals and Osterhage, a senior midfielder, contributed two assists Friday afternoon as the Waterloo Bulldogs downed Mundelein Carmel 3-1 in the semifinals of the Class 2A state soccer tournament.
Huels’ header on senior Chase Rubemeyer’s 50-yard free kick from midfield gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead at 13 minutes, 49 seconds, and after the Corsairs tied the game on sophomore Austin Ehren’s goal at 26:02, Osterhage twice crossed perfect passes to Huels for one-timers, first to make it 2-1 at 35:17 and then to make it 3-1 at 40:48.
Huels’ outburst gave him 30 goals this season, which are tied with Osterhage for most on the Bulldogs. Osterhage’s 20 assists top the team.
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“Kane and I had good chemistry up top. Every time he went to the corner, we just knew where each other was,” Huels said. “We had some great passes and I just found a way to finish them. All three of them were perfect. Great.”
Waterloo’s defense did the rest as the Bulldogs (24-3-1) advanced to their first state championship in soccer. They will play Peoria Notre Dame (22-1-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Notre Dame defeated Chicago Washington 4-0 in the other semifinal.
The Bulldogs, who are in the state tournament for the third time in school history, already have assured themselves of their highest finish. Previously, they placed third in 2010.
“Getting that first goal is always key,” Waterloo coach Chad Holden said. “I know they came back, but our guys didn’t panic. They haven’t panicked all year. We came right back and scored another. ... Even at the very end when (Carmel) started bringing bodies up, our guys stayed composed and didn’t panic. It’s so fun to watch.”
And it’s history in the making.
“This is the best team we’ve ever had,” Holden said. “It’s actually one of the best teams we’ve ever had in Waterloo history, in any sport, team-wise. Our football team in ’93 finished second, but we’ve never had anybody win it.”
Seeing is believing
For Carmel coach Ray Krawzak, knowing about the Bulldogs was one thing. Seeing them in person was another thing all together.
“That team is really good,” Krawzak said. “They do a great job. Their technique was not something to overlook. We thought they would be tough, big, physical, strong. But also, their midfield did a really nice job with the ball at their feet. They had some guys we knew could step up, and they did today.”
Krawzak said Huels’ second goal hurt the most.
“That kind of made it tough for us,” he said. “Then the way the second half started allowed them to really shut down our attack and made it difficult for a guy like Austin to get free. That was good strategy, good coaching, good execution on their defense’s part. Late in the game, we started getting some chances, but obviously, too little, too late.”
The Bulldogs expected Carmel to attack them through the air. Even Krawzak said that had been the Corsairs’ modus operandi this season, considering their speed and ball skills.
Instead, Carmel took to the air for much of the game, sending long balls over the Bulldogs’ midfield and applying pressure to the back line. The plan nearly worked on a couple of occasions in the opening minutes, leading to fouls that created free kicks.
“Our defense did a great job,” Huels said. “We had some little, chippy fouls at the beginning. All they were going to do was play the long ball, so our defense — Rubes (Rubemeyer), Cole (Kaiping), Griffin (Lenhardt) and Drew (Marshall) — did a great job.”
Chad Holden fully expected a possession game by both teams.
“I think they kind of took us a little bit by surprise with the long ball, because it seemed like they were doing it quite a bit,” he said. “But with that back four, like Ben said, it’s hard to get anything behind those guys. So once they started doing that, we felt if we could get those midfielders to stop their midfield from doing the through-ball or the long ball — and even the switching of the field — we would be all right.”
Waterloo is taller than most teams and effective in the air, so it makes sense for opponents to attempt a strategy of attacking on the ground.
“They were worried about our height and they wanted to keep the ball on the ground, but they kind of went away from that and were just kicking it, and I think it worked to our advantage,” Osterhage said.