Warriors strike early, beat Tigers for Wheaton Cup
By Curt Herron
Coaches often have hunches that good practice sessions will result in fine performances during upcoming matches.
Jeff Brooke felt just that way following some productive practices involving his Wheaton Academy squad this week.
So it was understandable why the Warriors coach had a big smile on his face following his team's Saturday match.
Wheaton Academy had just completed a weekend sweep in which it had outscored its two opponents by an 11-0 margin.
On Friday, WA clinched a share of the Suburban Christian Conference title with an 8-0 win over Chicago Christian.
A day later, the Warriors met up with Wheaton Warrenville South, who were hoping to defend the Wheaton Cup trophy.
Just 10 minutes into Saturday's nonconference match at the Academy, the hosts already had scored a pair of goals.
That proved to be too much of an obstacle to overcome for the Tigers, who had only scored eight goals all season.
WA added a goal early in the final half and then made that score stand as it claimed a 3-0 victory in West Chicago.
"I felt like we had two great training sessions this week where the guys showed up for practice and wanted to improve since we'd had a little bit of a lull in the attacking third," Brooke said.
"Those great sessions translated into our game last night and our game tonight. I was really proud of the goals for being able to move the ball around early and to finish the chances we created."
The one-two punch up top of Reid Culberson and Ty Seager caused the Tigers havoc early on with some strong pressure.
That led to one score less than three minutes in and then another which came just as the match reached 10 minutes.
On the first, Seager fired a shot off a defender which went to Culberson, who was there to put in a short attempt.
Then a few minutes later, a Culberson pass went just past a teammate to Seager, who connected from close range.
"Credit to them because they applied pressure and we felt it a little early," Tigers coach Guy Callipari said. "Rather than taking the safe way and getting the ball out toward the sideline, we played the ball toward the inside and put our central defender under pressure.
"Then it was a 50-50 and they were very aggressive and kept the ball alive and they found themselves with opportunities on both occasions. They created the opportunities by applying the pressure on us and then they took advantage of the opportunities that existed early."
While it was a great start for the Warriors (16-3-1), it only led to more frustration for the Tigers (6-10-3).
It was South's third straight shutout and marked the 13th time in 19 outings that the squad has failed to score.
"After those two goals, it was certainly a tall order," Callipari said. "We haven't scored a lot of goals so that certainly weighs on you heavily. Because we haven't scored much, we almost have to play perfectly defensively and we didn't do that tonight.
"We are starting to look for opportunities, even though they might not be clear opportunities, and that's a change from the first part of the season. And we are getting a number of shots off and eventually they'll start to fall for us if we get numbers forward.
"I kind of believe in some sense in statistics and what they're trying to tell me. I've done everything possible to try to change the dynamic of what I'm reading, but it stares me right in the face. I thought we did a good change with three in the back and one up higher."
The Tigers looked to end their drought following the Warriors' fast start and had some close calls along the way.
Mike Bennett was denied on a pair of attempts while Elliot Kettle forced keeper Drew Sezonov to dive on one shot.
One of the Tigers' best scoring opportunities came in the 29th minute when Kettle bounced one off the crossbar.
In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Sam Hardy lined a free kick but keeper Edson Gomez leapt to deflect it.
A bit later, South's Jurguen Gomez was denied on a header and then Parker Setran was thwarted on the other side.
While the Tigers continued to send attempts at Sezonov, his defense made sure that most weren't very threatening.
The play of defenders Marshall West, Daniel Bergquist, Parker Setran and Hunter Finnegan was another positive.
It was not only the fourth shutout in the last five outings for the Warriors, but also their 11th clean sheet of the season.
"Our back four played really well tonight," Brooke said. "Parker Setran, at right back, has had a great year, Marshall West and Danny Bergquist held things down at center back and Hunter Finnegan has been playing some great minutes in Zeb Lewis' absence.
"I thought that they just had good composure tonight. We were able to use them for possession but also they were able to change their mentality when we didn't have the ball, and then they really were able to defend well, like defending in pairs."
In the final half, Hardy started things up quickly with a liner that Gomez needed to make a diving stop on.
The hosts scored again in the 48th minute when Casey Zimmerman sent a pass to Jacob Fernandes, who connected.
Prior to the half's midpoint, Kettle got off three tries which were halted while the hosts kept up the heat.
The Tiger keeper stopped an effort by Seager, who saw a subsequent attempt cleared away by Mike Stelletello.
Not long after Gomez punched away a corner by Hardy, the latter got free but Ryan Trockman broke things up.
The hosts kept at it as Jacob Hoepner's corner was cleared by Dom Dalmasso and Grant Rougas' liner was denied.
In the last 10 minutes, Gomez shut down a try by Matthew Ruff and Sezonov halted an effort from Edwin Huerta.
"We just to work more on the defensive side," Gomez said. "We have to clear the balls out to the side instead of back to here the danger is coming from. On most teams, the pressure starts at the front, but we lack that, so it brings pressure toward us.
"We're just making those small mistakes, and that's what's really beating us. I have a feeling that we'll be stronger when we reach the playoffs because we have a whole week where we get to work on marking. We are a family and have a pretty close team."
While four-year performer Lewis could be back soon from injury, the Warriors aim toward their next big goal.
That takes place on Wednesday when they entertain Marmion Academy in the final and decisive match in the SCC.
The Warriors will capture the outright championship with a victory and the Cadets earn a share if they prevail.
West, a three-year player along with Bergquist, Fernandes and Zimmerman, likes what he's seeing from his squad.
"We try to come out hard and put teams away early," West said. "Ty and Reid both scored in the first 10 minutes and that really set us up nice tonight. We have to keep coming out strong from the first whistle and put the ball away.
"We're really starting to jell at the end of the year. We wear on the back of our jerseys and every shirt we have an 'ST', which stands for 'Stronger Together'. We really try to do life together and not just on the soccer field.
"We try to schedule the biggest and best schools in the state in order to get the best competition in order to get ready for the state tournament. We've got a lot of work to do but I think we have a good chance of making it far."
While 14 players returned from last year's fourth place squad in 2A, the Warriors added some new faces this year.
As a result, this squad is taking on its own personality as it prepares to possibly make another postseason run.
And based on what the team has accomplished through its first 20 matches, the final weeks figure to be exciting.
"This was great," Setran said. "We started out really fast today and that's what coach told us to do and it worked.
"We've improved so much this year. We had a good showing in the Pepsi Showdown and we've just gotten better from there.
"We play really well together and we all work really hard. We're really excited for the playoffs and seeing what we can do."