Coach: Jeff Brooke
Adam Hunt Sr., D/M
Gareth Flynn Sr., M
Andrew Luetkehans Sr., M
Thomas Oster Sr., D/M
Spencer Graf Sr., GK
Karl Cassel Sr., D
Gabe Partain Sr., D
Marshall West Jr., D
Casey Zimmerman Jr., F
Grant Stoneman Jr., M
Sam Hardy Jr., M
Zebadiah Lewis Jr., D
Jacob Hoepner Jr., M
Daniel Bergquist Jr., D
Jacob Fernandes Jr., F
Kevin Esposito Jr., M
Andrew Sezonov So., GK
Reid Culberson So., F
Ty Seager Fr., F/M
Jacob Kapitanuik Fr., M

Warriors' next stop: the Final Four
By Gary Larsen


As much as any high school soccer program in the land, Wheaton Academy’s is a family operation, and on Friday coach Jeff Brooke will pack up the kids for a 45-mile road trip to Frankfort.

The Warriors are going downstate.

“It feels amazing,” senior defender Andrew Luetkehans said. “I think I’m about ready to cry.”

Wheaton Academy (21-6) won 1-0 over Lake View (13-4-2) in Tuesday’s Class 2A super sectional game at Solorio Academy in Chicago, sending the Warriors to a state semifinal against Peoria Notre Dame, a 4-0 winner over Washington on Tuesday.

Wheaton Academy returns to the state finals for the first time since the program placed third in 2005 under then-coach Chip Huber. Now in his fifth season as head coach, Brooke – a former Wheaton Academy player himself – has guided the program to its first 20-win season since 2004.

“To work at Wheaton Academy – it’s such an incredible school and I’m blessed to be able to work there,” Brooke said. “I got to go there, so to come back and keep building this culture within the soccer program has been nothing but a privilege. All of our staff played here and we just want to keep building that culture.

“And it took a while, but we finally broke through.”

The goal that ultimately sent Brooke’s boys downstate on Tuesday came at the 34-minute mark, when senior Gareth Flynn sent in a low-flying corner kick and junior Grant Stoneman stepped hard to hammer a head shot to the back netting from 8 yards out.

Flynn (17 goals, 16 assists) and Stoneman (28 goals, 18 assists) have netted 45 of the team’s 112 goals this season. No. 45 didn’t come easy, with a frozen wind roaring at the Warriors’ backs in the first half, on a short field that also lacked width.

“You want to play it on the ground because any ball in the air, the wind would just take it,” Stoneman said. “But we were able to get one goal off it, at least.”

The Warriors earned a steady stream of restarts in their final third through 40 minutes, and Brooke was happy to see one of them pay off.

“It’s a little bit smaller field and we knew it would be pretty windy,” Brooke said. “We took the wind to start and (Lake View) did a good job of limiting the amount of balls we got on frame. But we were really in their half and to put that ball away, Stoneman has been just a rock for us all year. He produces goals, he defends, he distributes, and he got us the goal with the wind at our backs.”

Chasing a goal and with its season on the line, Lake View pushed hard for the equalizer with the wind at its back in the second half. Wheaton Academy keeper Spencer Graf and his backline of Luetkehans, Zeb Lewis, Daniel Bergquist, and Marshall West kept the Wildcats out, however, and posted the team’s 13th shutout of the year.

“It’s tough. The ball just keeps rolling and on those headers they go straight up and right back at you,” Luetkehans said.

Graf knew what was required of him with the Wildcats bringing the heat.

“It was tough,” Graf said. “It’s one of those moments where you have to be sure of everything, and take everything as your last ball. Make sure it’s in your hands, and that you’ve got it. But it’s hard. My goalkeeper coach said I had to be locked in, a hundred percent, for the whole game. No (bad) moments. He said to expect shots from anywhere, especially with a 40-mile-an-hour wind.”

“We knew the second half would be a battle,” Brooke said.  “We thought the wind might help some balls hold up, so we could get through a little. Credit to (Lake View). They looked very solid individually and very technical in the second half. With the wind at their back they looked very comfortable, so that eliminated our ability to get in behind.”

Had you polled the Warriors six weeks ago, after a 2-1 loss to Oak Park and River Forest dropped their record to 6-5, they likely wouldn’t have felt confident that a trip to the state’s Final Four was in the cards.

To that point, Wheaton Academy had given up 22 goals in 11 games.

“We left a game at the Pepsi Showdown just looking for answers, because we were giving up some goals, and they weren’t great goals,” Brooke said. “We started working on it in practice, guys committed to keeping the ball out of the net, and we’ve moved through the playoffs without giving up much. So I’m proud of those guys.”

The Warriors have gone 15-1 since the loss to OPRF, and only given up 11 goals in their last 16 games.

“We’re just bonding and getting better,” Luetkehans said. “We know who’s going to step and who’s going to drop. After the first few games we started gelling and I knew we had something special.”

Graf has seen his back four evolve into a rock-solid defensive unit after the team’s rocky start.

“Teams were racking up the points against us,” Graf said. “I think we just came to a moment where we said we’ve got to take the next step forward, and that starts with having the ball in the other net instead of ours.

“My defense has stepped it up a ton and they’ve definitely grown. If you told us at the beginning of the season that we’d be here right now – after we lost 5-1 to Wheaton Warrenville South (on Sept. 6) – we’d say probably not. But after the Saint Viator game, we said we’ve got to step things up, and we did.”

The Warriors lost 3-2 to Saint Viator on Sept. 29, but have ticked off 10 consecutive wins since then. Viator also advanced downstate with a 2-1 win over East Moline United on Tuesday.

Earning a second shot at Viator won't be easy. Wheaton Academy will first have to find a way to get past another perennial state power in Notre Dame on Friday.

“Peoria’s a great side and we’ve seen them play before,” Brooke said. “We respect what they do and they’re having a great season. We respect them and we’ll see if we can get after it on Friday.”

Graf knows that beating Notre Dame is another tall order, but he likes the way his side is playing heading into the game.

“(Brooke) has had that be our pep talk before every game,” Graf said. “It’s not always about the other team; it’s about playing soccer the way we’ve been taught and coached, and playing it the best way we can. I think we’ve definitely been doing that.”

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