Spartans fall to Warriors in first match on new field
By Bill Stone
When it comes to boys soccer, the rivalry between Wheaton Academy and St. Francis is on par with the Cubs and White Sox or Bears and Packers.
“I love it. It’s totally a big rival and it always has been,” Wheaton Academy sophomore Ty Seager said. “I’m a basketball player, too, so I’m always going against them with basketball and soccer so I love putting them away and trying to play my best against them so it’s always fun. It’s always good to get a win against St. Francis.”
Seager gave a little extra Thursday and his effort helped him play the role of main spoiler in the soccer debut of St. Francis’ new artificial grass surface for their home field.
After scoring twice in two games earlier this year, Seager not only collected a hat trick but also the first three goals in the Warriors’ 5-0 Suburban Christian Conference victory in Wheaton.
Sam Hardy and Reid Culberson had the final two goals for Wheaton Academy (5-1, 3-0 in SCC), both assisted by Lucas Hoepner. Jacob Fernandes, Hardy and Casey Zimmerman assisted Seager’s goals.
“It was good to come out here and establish how we usually play,” Seager said. “We possessed against them and we really showed them how we can play and kept our standard high.”
The Spartans (1-5-2, 0-2) came out with an emotional wave before the Warriors took a 2-0 halftime lead with Seager scoring in a two-minute span with 25:53 and 23:50 remaining.
Even though the Spartans were limited to four shots and one corner kick, an unfriendly post and a point-blank save were needed to keep them from scoring.
“We were real pumped. I can’t believe that we lost, but we gave it our all,” St. Francis junior midfielder Colin Sharf said. “We really wanted this game. We really wanted to win, but we’re always going to play them again. There will always be a next time.”
Debuting the new field against the Warriors made the evening that much more special for the Spartans, who were coming off Tuesday’s 4-0 loss at Marmion Academy, their other big SCC rival.
“The (new) field is outstanding compared to last year’s I think it’s great,” Sharf said. “I can’t believe we were able to get this. It’s so nice having it. It’s a lot faster and you just have to play with more speed.”
Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said his school is scheduled to have a similar artificial grass surface for next season.
This nice playing surface proved to be beneficial for the Warriors to display precision passing and crisp ball movement. They finished with 30 shots and 11 corner kicks against St. Francis sophomore goalie John Burke.
“We found some space in the middle of the park and the guys committed to playing one- and two-touch,” Brooke said. “We just want to keep committing to possessing in the middle third of the field.
“We think we’ve got some nice players up top and we want to be sure we don’t lose possession. We knew we’d have to kind of weather their storm because they come with a lot of energy and we thought we were able to weather it with our possession.”
Seager is up to eight goals this season, but they’ve come in bunches. His first four came in a pair of previous two-goal games. He and the Warriors were getting anxious for a third goal to open some breathing room.
On their seventh corner kick of the game, Zimmerman put the ball across the crease to Seager, whose left-footed blast opened a 3-0 advantage with 30:18 remaining.
“At halftime, we were talking that we’ve got to put our set pieces away because we were getting a bunch of them,” Seager said. “We’re always encouraged to try to get the third goal to try and put teams away. In two other games, I think we’ve gone into halftime 2-0 so we just have to get that third goal.”
This time, it certainly made a difference. Less than two minutes after the goal, St. Francis came roaring back. A great passing combination from Joe Denny to Michael Downs to Sharf eventually found sophomore Nick Roehl, who broke free to the left of the goal.
Roehl delivered a blistering shot, but it hit the inside of the left post and bounced out. The ball dangerously rolled across the crease, but Wheaton Academy midfielder Michael Carver was there to clear.
“They play hard every game we play them. It’s a good rival to have,” Wheaton Academy senior Kevin Esposito said. “I think it’s a great game every year. I think it’s a good, clean rivalry between two schools. I love playing St. Francis every year.”
The Spartans also came out with offensive fire in the opening minutes, often pushing the ball downfield in the corners but only getting a distant shot at goal from junior midfielder Ian Hart.
“They had their serious game faces on and they definitely were ready to play, especially because we played Marmion on Tuesday so it’s our two biggest rivals back-to-back after coming off playing seven games in eight days,” St. Francis coach Kristin Keigley said.
“They definitely wanted to come out and show the improvement that’s happened. We lost 13 seniors last year so we have a very, very new young team. This was a lot of their first games for the varsity rival of Wheaton Academy. They definitely were pumped. They had their goals set and wanted to do well.”
Seager scored first as he battled for a ball from Fernandes and eventually broke around the St. Francis defense and Burke to score. The second goal completed a passing combination with Carver and Hardy, who took the ball down the right wing and made the cross.
Hardy made it 4-0 with 23:02 left by diving to re-direct Hoepner’s 10-yard free kick along the right sideline. When Hoepner had his corner kick played back to him, he dribbled in and passed to Culberson, who dribbled to open space and scored with 20:34 to play.
“(Seager) did a nice job in terms of putting the ball away,” Brooke said. “It’s nice to be a well-rounded group so that there’s never just one guy to get it done in a night.”
Wheaton Academy’s defense needed teamwork more than usual to earn the shutout, already its fourth this season and second game in a row. The Spartans have been shut out five times, including the last three consecutive games.
Esposito, often one of the first players off the bench, started at outside back in place of senior co-captain Zeb Lewis, who was sick.
“I didn’t find out at the end of the day. One of the other captains, (senior Marshall West), told me Zeb was sick and he’s not coming,” Esposito said. “(Brooke) just told me, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’m always ready to go.’
“I play pretty much everywhere this year, but I like it all, I guess. Whenever I get a chance to go in, I’ll go wherever I can and help out the team any way I can.”
Starting junior goalie Drew Sezonov had a relatively calm night, thanks in part to his maturing and a seasoned defensive line. It looked like junior Jon Cantey would get some field time when he replaced Sezonov with 9:22 remaining.
Within a minute, Roehl broke free again down right wing. Roehl delivered a point-blank shot that Cantey thwarted with his hands over the end line. The Spartans’ ensuing corner kick by Jose Zepeda was cleared out by Patrick Kigallon.
“(Cantey) is a great goalkeeper, and Sezonov does a brilliant job for us. The two have been working so hard making each other better,” Brooke said.
Roehl is among just four returning starters for a roster that this year has just six seniors. His move from defense to forward has paid dividends.
“Nick is our leading scorer and he’s definitely hungry, which is something we’ve been missing for the last year or two,” Keigley said.
“We were lacking defenders last year and this year, instead, we have a lot so we were able to move him forward. He actually plays forward for his club (team) so he was only playing defense really for us, but he can do both so well. I wish I could just clone him.”
Wheaton Academy plays its fourth match this week Saturday against Whitney Young as part of the Pepsi Showdown. St. Francis’ next game is Tuesday at SCC foe Aurora Central Catholic, which Wheaton Academy defeated 8-0 Saturday.
“We’ve had a lot of big games early on that we normally don’t plan on. We’ve had warmup time in the past seasons but, if anything, I’ve seen how they can handle pressure against the big guys,” Keigley said. “We just have more time to prepare now when it comes to the playoffs because that’s when it really matters.”