Waking up for the first time as state soccer champions Sunday morning was as enjoyable as the game Saturday that gave the title to the Waterloo Bulldogs.
Waterloo (25-3-1) outscored the Peoria Notre Dame Irish 4-3 to claim the Class 2A championship at Hoffman Estates High School. It was the Bulldogs’ first title in a team sport in school history.
“It finally kind of set in when I woke up, just realizing what we did. It’s a great feeling,” junior midfielder Philip Most said. “The tournament was awesome. It’s not something you experience twice in a lifetime. It was nice having all our fans and students and friends up there supporting us, cheering us on while we’re trying to accomplish something great.”
Most said the early stages of the bus ride home were pretty lively.
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“You know how long car rides are,” Most said. “The first hour or two hours are pretty exciting, but then everybody starts to get tired. A few guys dozed off, some didn’t. Most of the conversation was based around the tournament and what other teams were saying about us in articles, all the people who were congratulating us over text messages and phone calls.
“It’s awesome to be state champions. There were a lot of people I didn’t know, but I’m happy they congratulated me. I think we’ll be local heroes. I’m just hoping that none of our teachers make us turn in our homework for the weekend.”
Waterloo built a 2-0 lead on goals by senior Kane Osterhage and Most in the first three minutes. After Notre Dame got within 2-1 on a free kick by Aidan Hill, junior Ben Huels scored to make it 3-1 late in the first half. The Irish once again got within a goal at 3-2 when T.J. Rea scored, but junior Ryan Stites answered for the Bulldogs to make it 4-2 in the 65th minute.
Marty Dahlquist scored as the Irish cut their deficit to one goal for the third time, but the Waterloo defense held on despite sustained pressure by Notre Dame in the final 10 minutes.
“It was amazing,” senior defender Cole Kaiping said. “I still have no words for it. The thing I liked the most is we never gave up. If we let in one goal, we would never get our head down. We would never put our head down. We would keep fighting until the end.
“It’s been amazing, indescribable. It’s definitely a feeling of accomplishment. It shows how hard we’ve worked all year to reach our main goal of winning the state championship.”
Junior goalie Trevor Coplin, moments before joining his teammates for a parade through town Sunday, said the excitement level only continued to build.
“I have the chills,” Coplin said. “It’s a really big day. (Saturday) night, I was stunned. Now, it’s settling in and getting better. It will get better at school (Monday) also.”
Most of the trip home was spent reminiscing and trying to keep up with all the well-wishers who flooded the players’ cell phone with texts and emails.
“That ride home was amazing,” senior Ethan Lewis said. “It was long, but it was awesome. Our phones were all blowing up.”
Bulldogs coach Chad Holden said the state championship “was a good team effort.”
“I’m very proud of the boys,” he said. “The administration and our fans were awesome throughout – just the whole community. It’s been a great experience for these kids. I love coaching in general, but to get this is awesome. I just love coaching these kids whether we’re good or bad. But this is special here.”
Holden said his players were so talented that his job was just to keep them on task.
“This group, it almost wasn’t even coaching. It was managing these guys,” Holden said. “They were all just great players in general and they were so much fun to be around. A lot of them, I’ve known since they were itty-bitty when they played soccer with my son (Dawson) at the age of 4 or 5 years old. To see the way they’ve grown and the way they play, and to have this happen, words can’t even express how sweet it is.”
Waterloo became the third Monroe County team in three years to earn a state championship, following the Gibault Hawks (2013) and Columbia Eagles (2014) in Class 1A.
Already, the Bulldogs are hoping they will be able to repeat their feat next season. With the returns of Huels (31 goals, nine assists), Most (10 goals, seven assists) and Ryan Stites (seven goals, three assists), offense shouldn’t be an issue despite the loss of Osterhage, who tied Huels for the team lead in goals with 31 and led the Bulldogs with 21 assists.
On defense, starters Drew Marshall and Griffin Lenhardt return, and other key players like Dawson Holden and Tyler Grob also will be back.
“We’re going to let this soak in for a while, but it will be a huge loss to lose these seniors,” Most said. “Hopefully, some of the underclassmen can step up, and some of the juniors that will be seniors. But me and Ben and Griffin and Ryan are hoping to take charge of the team as the seniors have done this year. We don’t doubt our ability to win it twice.”
Lewis will graduate but he believes the personnel will be there to make a deep run and perhaps bring another title to Waterloo.
“I think they can,” Lewis said. “They’re getting Ben back, and that’s huge. And Philip and Stites really stepped up. I think they can do it again next year.”
Chad Holden isn’t looking that far ahead.
“That’s always our goal,” he said of winning state. “We do return a good nucleus of players. But we’re going to enjoy this right now. We’ll think about next year at a later date.”
Waterloo’s seniors, in particular, were ecstatic for Holden, who stuck with them through lean times that included records of 5-13-1 in 2012 and 11-10-2 in 2013.
“He’s a great coach,” Kaiping said. “He literally makes everything as fun as you can ever think of. But when it’s time to get serious, the dude wants to win more than anybody. I’m just so happy we brought one back for him. I’ve never seen him more happy in my life. I loved it. As soon as the game got over, we all huddled up and were celebrating. I just ran straight to him and gave him a huge hug. Part of this is for him.”
Kaiping said Holden, in his 18th season, never wavered in his belief that the freshman class in 2012 would wind up being special despite its early struggles.
“We were not good at all (as freshmen),” Kaiping said. “He told us all along, our freshman and sophomore years, that when we got to our senior year we were going to be something special and were going to do some damage. We certainly did that.”
Lewis called Holden “a good man.”
“When there were five seconds left on the clock, I looked at Chad and his hands were over his head and he just couldn’t believe it,” Lewis said
Lewis said Holden is all business during practice, but the idea is to help the players, and the team, realize their potential.
“Every practice, he’s always pushing us to do the best of our abilities,” Lewis said. “Every sprint that we have to run, he’s on our butts, making us run as hard as we can. Everything is serious and we’re never messing around in practice. It pays off in the end. If he yells at you in practice, it’s for a reason.”
Senior Clay Metz said he always will have fond memories of his years with Holden.
“There’s no regrets,” said Metz, who finished with 38 goals and 17 assists in his career. “He’s been an awesome coach these four years. We wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way. Freshman year was a really rough year. Sophomore year, we were getting a little better. Junior year, we really came around. Senior year, now we’re state champs.”