Warriors weather the storm, top Geneva
By Darryl Mellema
As rivalries go, Geneva-Wheaton Academy may not seem to be one of the greater ones in the western suburbs. Yet there is a history of Wheaton Academy players who live in Geneva -- and Grant Rougas is one of a long line of such players.
Rougas, a junior midfielder for Wheaton Academy, scored two of his team’s goals in a 3-0 Warriors victory on Tuesday night.
“A lot of our players on this team play club with their guys,” Rougas said. “I played, when I was really little, with at least half their team. I know a lot of them. It’s always a lot of fun playing Geneva or teams like St. Charles East or Batavia.”
Rougas’ first goal opened the scoring for the match. Given a corner kick seven minutes before halftime, Lucas Hoepner sent the ball across, it popped up and came to Rougas, who headed into the net.
“I marked up the goalie, normally just to get in his face,” Rougas said. “I wasn’t trying to get a goal. But the ball came to me so I went to it and the goalie couldn’t get to it because it was cramped in the middle and I tried to get a head on it.”
Up to that point, the outcome of the game was very much in doubt. Geneva was dominant in the opening quarter-hour. If the Vikings failed to get many shots on goal, they certainly had the ball in Wheaton Academy’s defensive half.
“The first 15 minutes, we weathered the storm,” Rougas said. “We just seemed to stick with it. Geneva, they play defensive and we knew they would do that – they’re very good at defending in the run of play. We were told we had to put balls away on set pieces, and that’s what we did.”
As the half progressed, Wheaton Academy (9-2-0) came more into the match, though again without generating much offensive firepower until the final 10 minutes of the half.
“We felt that the first 15 minutes – you know (Geneva coach Ryan Estabrook) always has his guys ready to go – and we felt they controlled,” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. “That was our conversation at halftime, that we thought that they came out and gave it to us in the first 15. I would agree they weren’t necessarily creating tons of chances, but they had possession and overwhelmed us with numbers.”
Rougas’ goal shifted that momentum and moved the Warriors into a period of ascendancy they did not surrender the rest of the match.
“They definitely came at us and definitely wanted to win and like I said, we had to weather that storm,” Rougas said. “We got the goal and we got the energy and it seemed like it was in their half more.”
Just one minute after Rougas scored, Jacob Hoepner added a second, a definite boost for the hosts and certain blow to the gut for Geneva, which had a two-goal deficit to attempt to erase as the teams headed to their halftime discussions.
“We had all three goals come off the bench tonight,” Brooke said. “I had just put (Hoepner) in there. The ball comes out to him and he strikes a beauty with his left foot. I’m proud of the way the guys entered the game tonight. We were in a little bit of a funk and a little bit of a lull in the first half. And the guys who came into the game made us better.”
Rougas added his second goal and his team’s third goal in the 17th minute of the second half. Once again starting with a corner kick, this time the ball came to Rougas on the ground at the far post and he redirected it into the goal.
“Same thing, I was marking up the goalie,” Rougas said.
Set piece success was something Brooke was happy to see from his team.
“Geneva’s a disciplined side,” Brooke said. “They get behind the ball. They overwhelm you with numbers. For us to get two goals off corners and one from a move that started with a throw-in, that’s what we’ve been telling our guys, that those are the things that are important against a team that defends so well.”
Surrendering a pair of set piece goals was frustrating for Geneva, though Estabrook saw the characteristics that allowed the Warriors to be effective.
“They were taller than us and they had their way with us on those set pieces from a physical standpoint,” Estabrook said. “Tactically, sometimes you can do everything you can and bigger, stronger kids make the plays.”
Through the second half, Geneva struggled to make inroads. Jason Lagger had an effort on goal 14 minutes before the end of the match and there was a late flurry which started from a corner kick with three minutes to play – but the Vikings rarely pressured the Wheaton Academy goal.
“It was just an interesting game,” Estabrook said. “We couldn’t find much rhythm. We got knocked off our feet quite a bit and it was hard to really feel like we were generating much offense. I think the scoreline showed it with a few shots by us and a few chances.”
Especially in the first half, Geneva got massive contributions from a pair of its defenders – junior right back Dylan Lange and senior center back Sam Urben. Each made key one-on-one tackles when they were the last man to prevent a Wheaton Academy attacker from moving free on goal.
“We call (Urben) “Wild Man,” Estabrook said. “He goes in hard on challenges all the time. And he’s got great makeup speed. He’s learning to cut down angles better. His possession has improved as well.
“(Lange) was in great position a lot of times tonight defensively. We’re getting him to connect better with the rest of the team. This is the second game in a row he’s played nearly the entire game. It’s nice to see him filling in well and starting to establish himself.”
The Vikings have been searching for defensive consistency, and Tuesday’s starters -- Lange, Urben as well as junior Ethan Mims and sophomore Drew Klaus – provided Estabrook another chance to find a solid quartet as the season reaches its midpoint.
“We’ve had some issues with trying to get consistent back there with various things,” Estabrook said. “This was another new unit back there again tonight. So it’s nice to see that a lot of guys are able to step in, because you never know when someone might go down. It’s nice to know we have guys who can fill in roles and be more flexible.”
Geneva heads to the Glenwood Invitational this weekend with a 4-5-0 record and with the IHSA sectional seedings coming soon. The Vikings play in the Metea Valley Sectional – against a group of teams they mostly do not see in the regular season.
“Being a sub-.500 team again isn’t the position we want to be in,” Estabrook said. “We only play three teams out of that section and so it’s hard for us to be seeded accurately. People might look at our records and say ‘they’re under .500 so we’ll put them down low, whereas we’re 10 seconds away from 2-0-1 against other teams in our region. We’ll see what other teams do with us. We’re happy that we get to host a regional this year. We’ve become a team that’s spoiled to play on Turf all the time. That true bounce and that quick style of play seems to suit what we try to do.”
The Warriors always schedule a strong non-conference schedule of Class 3A schools, and Geneva was the latest of these. Wheaton Academy has its first shot at reaching double-digit wins this season when it hosts another Upstate Eight School – Batavia – on Friday. The match starts at 8 p.m. as homecoming fireworks will follow the contest.
“We just love to be able to play high school soccer in this area,” Brooke said. “We want to push our guys to the highest level we can be and there are just incredible schools around here to play against. (Estabrook), like I say, always his guys ready and he’s a brilliant coach and is a great man.”