As the regular season wraps up, area soccer teams are preparing for “the second season.”
Columbia, Gibault and Valmeyer all begin their playoff journeys this week. Columbia, playing in the Freeburg Regional, opens against Lebanon on Wednesday night. Gibault defeated Valmeyer Tuesday night in another regional semifinal game. The winner of the Freeburg Regional and the Gibault Regional, which is being played at Oerter Park, will meet next Wednesday at Columbia.
As the three teams completed their regular seasons, their coaches reflected on the highs and lows of the year, while looking ahead to the postseason.
“We have had quite a successful year so far,” said Columbia coach Jason Mathenia. “It’s hard to complain when you’re 19-2.”
Mathenia said that his proudest moment of the season was when the team and school got together with the community to raise $1,000 for the Siteman Cancer Center, and $500 for the family of Gibault soccer player Zac Epplin.
Mathenia says that the Eagles’ hard work throughout the season has them prepared for the physical grind of a playoff run.
“Our preparation is really no different at this point,” he said. “The boys have trained hard all season, which should help us.”
Mathenia knows that the mental game is as important as the physical aspect in the postseason. He has stressed to his team to take things one game at a time.
“We’ll prepare for each opponent one by one,” he said. “As long as we are consistent with the quality of our game, I will be confident regardless of who we play.”
Columbia does have some injury concerns as they enter the postseason. BYU commit Andrew Dossett is still day-to-day with an injury, and fellow senior Zach Jonak is likely out for the season after suffering a severe concussion last week. Mathenia knows that it will be difficult to replace the injured players, but is impressed with the way several members of the team have stepped up in their absence.
“We’ve had several guys step up their game in the last week or so — including, but not limited to, Matt Pelt, Patrick McDermott and Quinten Spivey — and I’m very proud of them,” he said.
On Monday, Dossett and Matthew Roderick were named to the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association All-State team, goalkeeper Eddie Starr was announced as an All-State nominee, and Spivey was named to the All-Sectional team.
Like Columbia, the Gibault Hawks are also looking to get healthy heading into the postseason. Head coach Matt Reeb rested several of his starters throughout the final week of the season in an effort to allow some nagging injuries to heal. The result was two consecutive losses to Collinsville and O’Fallon, followed by a win over Belleville East to close out the season. Gibault finished with an 11-5-4 record.
While hoping to heal some injuries, the Hawks are doing more mental and tactical preparation than physical. That includes focusing on each game.
“The core players that I have understand that in the playoffs, you cannot look past an opponent,” Reeb said, referring to last season, when his team was eliminated in sectionals by Alton Marquette — a team they had beaten twice in the regular season.
“I still think a lot of them have a bitter taste in their mouth from last year and the experienced seniors we have won’t let that happen again.”
Reeb acknowledged that it has been an up-and-down season both physically and emotionally. There was the thrilling 3-2 victory over SLUH — the first win over the Junior Billikens in program history — and then there was the shocking news of senior defender Zac Epplin’s cancer diagnosis. Reeb remarked that his team has responded positively to the adversity.
“It has been good for the boys to adjust to the circumstances and grow as a team,” he said.
Gibault’s regional first-round opponent, Valmeyer, has had its fair share of highs and lows. The Pirates began the year 5-2, more than doubling their 2012 win total. Head coach Neil Siburt was extremely proud of the way his team stormed out of the gates at the beginning of the year.
The hot start came to a crashing halt, as several rough injuries have had an adverse effect on the Pirates, who suffered through a long losing streak in the second half of the season.
“It (the injuries) has really taken its toll on us,” said Siburt. “We’ve had a hard time recovering.”
In anticipation of the postseason, Siburt echoed Mathenia and Reeb’s philosophy of taking each game one at a time. He also stressed the importance of ingame communication among his players.
“We’ve been working on communication all year and it is still being worked on now,” he said.
Waterloo, meanwhile, still has a week of regular season play before kicking off the Class 2A postseason by hosting a regional on Oct. 22-26.
The Bulldogs hosted Mascoutah last Tuesday on Senior Night. Waterloo dominated the scoring chances early on, but a little bit of bad luck—and some spectacular saves from the Mascoutah goalkeeper—kept the ‘Dogs off the board for the first 25 minutes. They finally broke through with 15 minutes left in the half, when Kane Osterhage handled a beautiful cross and slid it past the Indians goalie for the score.
Six minutes later, Clay Metz made it 2-0, taking advantage of a failed clearance by the Mascoutah defense.
A rebound goal helped the Indians make it a one goal game late in the half, but Waterloo answered quickly, as Metz dribbled into the box and let loose his second goal of the night, giving the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead going into the break.
Metz would complete his hat trick late in the second half, as Waterloo cruised to a 4-1 victory.
The win came on a night when the Bulldogs honored seniors Austin Evans and Kyle Wagner.
“They’ve been with us for four years,” coach Chad Holden said. “They’ve been great leaders for us this year, especially with such a young team. It’s a bummer that Evans is out for the year with an injury, but that doesn’t take away from what he and Kyle have done for us. We wish them the best.”
Two nights later, Waterloo visited Highland and came out with a 1-0 victory. The victory was another step in a positive direction, as the Bulldogs look to earn at least a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference title.
“We want to win the conference and we control our own destiny,” said Holden.
Holden is also excited to see what his team can do in the IHSA playoffs.
“We want to be playing our best soccer at this time of the year and we’ re looking good right now,” he said. “We’re very hungry. We’re young but we’re not working for the future. Our future is right now.”