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Trevor Scarlett Manager

Wheaton Academy blanks Mustangs in Pepsi play


By Matt Le Cren

With star Chris Freeman poised to take a corner kick, Metea Valley coach Josh Robinson thought the ball had a pretty good chance of ending up in the back of the net.

It did, but not the one Robinson had in mind.

Freeman’s corner kick was intercepted just inside the penalty area by Wheaton Academy’s Matt Ruff, who knocked the ball head to teammate Casey Zimmerman for what turned out to be a rare 2-on-0 breakaway.

Zimmerman dribbled nearly 60 yards up the field with Ruff on his right side and Metea Valley goalie Tim Howard backpedaling in front of him. The amazing counterattack ended with Zimmerman scoring his fifth goal of the season in what turned out to be a 2-0 Wheaton Academy victory Tuesday night in the second round of the Pepsi Showdown in Aurora.

“Casey Zimmerman has got some good speed,” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. “Obviously, the ball shot out of the there and he went at least 60 yards. I was waiting for a white [uniform] to come into my eye but I didn’t see one, so obviously [we] caught them on the counter, but great work rate to defend well when we did and then the release was brilliant.”

The play came with 22:23 remaining in the second half and was the key momentum swing in the contest as the seventh-seeded Mustangs (3-3-2) went from potentially tying the match at 1-1 to trailing 2-0 in a matter of 10 seconds.

“It was a communication breakdown,” Robinson said. “We sent too many guys and just [had] some communication breakdowns and they were able to counter well.”

Indeed, every Metea field player was in the attack zone and Howard was nearly at midfield when Zimmerman looked up and saw something he had never seen before.

“That was a first,” Zimmerman said of the 2-on-0 chance. “I know Ruff and I both came back and their center back was still at the 40, but he came up when the ball popped out and Ruff just made a good tackle, flipped it up and I got a good enough touch on it where I could take off. So a lot of credit to Ruff for getting that ball to a place where I could take off and get going.”

Confronted with a situation most goalies would call their worst nightmare, Howard probably made the correct decision to retreat into his box rather than risk trying to tackle the ball away from Zimmerman, who could have easily gone around him in the open field or passed back to Ruff, which would have resulted in an empty net goal.

“I was kind of debating,” Zimmerman said. “I thought he was going to come up at me and I would just have to get a big touch around him, but when he went back I was kind of like, ‘That’s a first,’ but my eyes got pretty big on that one. It was 1 v 1 with the keeper and it was a big goal for us if I put it away.”

Indeed, Zimmerman’s strike allowed the 10th seeded Warriors (7-1) to breathe a little easier while withstanding a late flurry by host Metea Valley, which did a good job of creating opportunities and pressuring Wheaton Academy’s defense in the final 20 minutes.

Wheaton Academy goalie Drew Sezonov made four of his six saves in the second half and all of them were difficult. He made a kick save on an open 10-yarder from Jake Celinski, a diving effort to tip a 28-yard bullet from Freeman around the right post and a tremendous stop from point-blank range to again deny Celinski.

Sezonov’s final save came with 1:51 to go when he dove to grab a volley from Nate Donovan to preserve Wheaton’s fifth shutout.

“This is probably the first or second game all year where we outpossessed somebody,” Robinson said. “We outpossessed them for a good part of the game but they counter well. Between No. 20 [sophomore Ty Seager] and No. 19 [junior Reid Culberson] they just have speed.

“I thought we knocked the ball around nice, it was just good individual effort on the first goal, miscommunication on the second goal and we fell apart on that and the goalie did a good job making some quality saves.”

Howard also made his share of quality stops, finishing with four saves, including a great diving effort to stop Culberson on a breakaway in the first half. But he had no chance of getting a hand on Sam Hardy’s 25-yard rocket into the lower right corner of the net that gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at the 24:09 mark of the first half. The early advantage proved to be important.

“They were the higher seed and we knew we had to play our best to come out and perform to their level or better,” Zimmerman said. “I thought our team played almost perfectly to where we could finish the game off. Our midfield play was outstanding. Our defense didn’t let up a goal. It was a big-time game for us.”

How big? Well, the win gives the Warriors a spot in the Pepsi quarterfinals for the first time since 2004, when they advanced to the semifinals in the tournament’s inaugural year. Current assistant coaches Joe Selvaggio and Jason VanderVeen played on that team.

“[Selvaggio] always gives us a hard time about [his team] being the only team in Wheaton Academy history to get that far, so we want to push it,” Zimmerman said. “We try to do our best especially after coming off a great playoff season last year. We wanted to make it a big goal to get pretty far in the Pepsi.”

The Warriors, who will take on defending Class 3A state champion and No. 2 seed Warren in Thursday’s quarterfinals, have done it despite playing schools three or four times their size.

“[We are] a 2A school and we don’t want to just be a part of it,” Brooke said. “We want to impact it.

“We love the opportunity to play Metea. That’s what why we participate in the Pepsi; so we can play against the best schools in the area. Obviously we wanted to not just come out here but compete at our highest level.

“We’re trying to get better every day and we were able to move the ball and we were able to commit to some possession in the middle of the field and I thought once we got up 2-0 and [the Mustangs] really started playing with some urgency, I thought they were starting to ping the ball in a really good 1-2 touch fashion, so hats off to the them. They’ll have a nice season, I’m sure.”

Despite being just four years old, Metea has a sterling track record in the Pepsi. The Mustangs made the semifinals in 2011, losing in overtime to Lyons, and had never been knocked out before the quarterfinals until now.

“We’ve always done well in this tournament but the nice thing about the tournament is that we continue playing against quality teams,” Robinson noted. “We still have two more games in the [consolation bracket] against quality opponents that are going to continue to make us grow so that’s the bigger thing.”

While disappointed with the loss, Robinson was impressed with Wheaton Academy.

“I like their team. They’re a good little team and you’ve got to give them credit for winning and just how hard they work,” Robinson said. “But I like how we competed against a team that is clearly doing really well this year.”


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