All in all, a lot of success – and a lot of good memories.
As importantly, there was a lot of late-season improvement around Cathedral High School 2021 boys soccer. That made Joel Russell’s second season as coach successful.
“It was a good year,” Russell said.
It was a memorable one, too, with the Irish not only winning the Class 3A, Section 11 tournament but also beating East Central, 1-0, in a regional semifinal. The Irish finished one game from the Class 3A Final Four, losing the regional final by 3-0 to No. 10-ranked Carmel at Carmel
The Irish finished 12-6-2 and won their sectional for a fourth time in five seasons. After losing multiple starters from their 2020 team, they improved throughout the season to become solid defensive team in addition to a powerful scoring unit.
“Overall, it was a fantastic season,” Russell said.
Senior defender Alex Russell and junior Josh Wesseling were each selected first-team All-District, with the Irish also being led by senior forward Chris Kiki – who was elected as the Irish’s top team player. Senior midfielder Trey Heyward also led the Irish as a captain along with Russell and Kiki.
“We had three captains,” Russell said. “They were seniors and it showed. It showed in their leadership and it showed in their play. It helped carry us to where they got.”
The sectional tournament marked a season high point. The Irish beat Arsenal Tech – a well-coached team that rallied late to beat the Irish 2-1 in the City Championship Game – by a score of 1-0 to advance to the sectional finals, with Kiki converting a penalty kick midway through the second half. They then beat Lawrence North, 1-0 in the sectional title game, with Wesseling scoring the game’s lone goal.
“We ended up probably where we should have,” Russell said, “but you always aspire for a little more.”
The Irish also went 6-0-1 against rival schools such as Guerin Catholic, Bishop Chatard, Cardinal Ritter, Covenant Christian and Roncalli with 50-plus goals scored and none against.
“That was a really positive showing for us,” Russell said. “We’re not in a league, but if we were those would be teams in our league from that perspective. That was really good to see lots of goals scored and none against.”
The Irish, after beginning the season as a strong offensive team, also finished that way – and developed into a strong defensive team. Their last three victories – all in the postseason – came by a score 1-0, with Luke Hern, Russell and Heyward and sophomore Liam Fahey plus freshman goaltender Jett Wallmeier providing the core of the defense.
“We were really tough to score on,” Russell said. “I think our team really got organized defensively. When you don’t give up goals, you have a chance to win any game.”
The Irish changed formations midway through the season from three defenders in the back of the formation to four.
“Once we did that, we really gained some confidence – and our counterattack was just devastating,” Russell said. “We were dynamic up top and solid on defense. You look at any sport, and the team that gives up the fewest points is usually the team that’s winning it. The way we ended was good.
“I like a tough team defensively and a disciplined mindset, and I think our team developed into that. I give all our players credit. That’s not me. That’s them.”
And in addition to turning in a memorable season for the present, Russell said the ’21 team laid a strong foundation for the program’s future.
“We had a great freshman, with two starting and two more contributing significantly,” Russell said. “That’s a great incoming class, so it’s, ‘How do we build from there?” I like the direction of the program. I will say that.
“We just need to continue build from where we’re at. We need more soccer players in school we’re really adopting [more of a year-round] approach. We’re doing some offseason workouts and we’ll practice as much as the IHSAA will allow, which I think is unique.
“Teams that hang together and play together play well together. It’s keeping that camaraderie, that family atmosphere in the program and challenging players to get better.”