West Chicago sees first state title in 45 years within reach
Soccer team could win school's first state title in decades on Saturday
It was 45 years ago that the West Chicago football team won a state title.
The Wildcats haven't won a championship since then in any sport.
After a pep assembly on Thursday and a mini-sendoff scheduled for today, the Wildcats will make their first appearance in the boys soccer state finals. They will battle Edwardsville in a Class 3A semifinal at Hoffman Estates at 5 p.m.
The winner will get either Morton (22-3-2) or St. Patrick (25-2-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday, with the loser playing for third place at 5 p.m.
"At the beginning of the season, state was mentioned on Day One and not just qualifying for state but winning state," Wildcats coach Jose Villa said. "They bought into it since Day One and when we got off the bus (after beating Jacobs 2-0 in the supersectional on Tuesday) the guys said they weren't satisfied. They were going to enjoy this one tonight but want to be in that 7 o'clock game on Saturday."
So far, the only goal the Wildcats (22-2-3) have not achieved this fall is winning the PepsiCo tournament, but champions don't drink high amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages anyway.
"That was the only goal we didn't accomplish," Villa said. "We set the bar high and they haven't just talked about doing it, but we're right there now doing it and they're not satisfied yet."
Edwardsville (21-4-1) last appeared at state in 2013, winning the Class 3A title.
The Tigers aren't in unfamiliar territory. While they haven't advanced to state in six seasons, they're making their 10th appearance, with eight of them occurring under longtime coach Mark Heiderscheid.
"First appearance by West Chicago, but I am very impressed with what I have been hearing," he said. "I think that we will have such a tough game against what I feel is a very talented West Chicago team."
Cooper Nolan, Brennan Weller and Jakob Doyle have accounted for 48 of Edwardsville's 75 goals and will look to cause havoc against a West Chicago defense led by all-stater Ben Suddeth and goalkeeper David Kuehn that has shut out three straight opponents.
Jahir Martinez, Moises Morfin and Jessie Hernandez lead West Chicago's attack.
"We're facing really skilled opponents in these last few games and it's not just about our skill but about heart," West Chicago senior defender and captain Alonso Salinas said. "It's two components that have worked in our favor. State's been in our mind all season. We're really working hard and not only for us but for the city."
While this is a new experience for these Wildcats, they're not intimidated by what's next. They've proven they belong by continuing to win, but more importantly they truly believe in themselves.
"As you go along you expect nerves to kick in, but these guys are so locked in," Villa said. "Like Moises said, at one point he wasn't nervous at all and I think it's about these kids being able to play up to their standards. They don't give in. They don't get rattled easily. They're out there enjoying themselves playing the style of soccer we like to play, possession-based, keeping the ball on the ground, switching the field and attacking."
The Wildcats are ready to go.
"We keep gaining confidence," Salinas said. "We're not being showoffs. We're just confident in ourselves that no one is going to stop us."
In Class 2A, Benet (19-1-2) will face St. Laurence (18-4-1) in a 3 p.m. semifinal today with the possibility that Crystal Lake South (19-4-4) could be awaiting to defend its state title at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Redwings' only loss was to Naperville North on Sept. 7, and they've allowed just 4 goals in 22 games.