The season was far from easy.
And it wasn’t nearly as long as would have been ideal.
But Joel Russell said none of that kept 2020 Cathedral High School boys soccer from being very successful – and the season absolutely held key lessons and memorable moments.
“Individually we didn’t have that All-Star, All-America player,” Russell said. “But collectively, we had a really good team. When you added parts together, the sum of the parts was greater than individual.
“That’s what I was hoping for.”
The Irish, long one of Central Indiana’s top high school boys soccer programs, persevered through an early-season Covid-19 shutdown to emerge as one of the area’s hottest teams in the season’s final weeks. They beat perennial power Carmel and won the City Championship before advancing to the final of the Class 3A, Section 11 Tournament.
They lost 3-2 there to Franklin Central – an unsatisfying end, but one Russell said couldn’t negate what the team accomplished in his first season as the program’s head coach.
The Irish finished 8-5-2, winning seven of their last eight games.
“I have to give the players a lot of credit,” Russell said. “The grit that they showed to come back together and say, ‘Hey, as a team we’re pretty good …’ It was really rewarding as a coach to see how the players pulled it together.”
The Irish missed five games early in the season because of COVID-19. Russell said the layoff hurt fitness early, and a young team that returned just four or five starters struggled early to find its footing.
They went 1-4-1 to start the season, sustaining what Russell said was a season-turning 4-0 loss to Guerin Catholic.
“The season really got off to a slow start,” Russell said. “Not only did we lose two weeks, but the last thing we tasted before losing that time was losing 6-1 against Westfield in a scrimmage. The players were yelling at each other. They weren’t helping each other. Coming out of that and setting a tone that we were going to win and lose as a team …”
“We really looked in the mirror at that point and said, ‘Hey, wait a minute guys. We’re a good team. What are we doing here? And what kind of season are we going to have?’’’
The Irish in 2020 were led by a strong core of senior leader and captains: center midfielder Jameson Brown, Roman Sally and Reid Brenton and goaltender Mike Deweese. After the Guerin loss, Russell said “They got together and rallied the troops if you will.”
“They put us back on track,” Russell said. “They started to believe, ‘OK, we can play.’ The only thing I think the class lacked was that outgoing loud leader. It was a quiet group: ‘Let’s get our stuff down.’ They were really the drivetrain for the program.”
The Irish won seven of their next eight games after Guerin, a run that included what Russell called a satisfying victory over then-No. 3-ranked Carmel and a 1-1 tie with then No 2-ranked Hamilton Southeastern.
“The team really came together and worked collectively,” Russell said. “Given Covid, given missing five games and two weeks -- we were overhauling half of our roster and infusing new layers. I think our team just needed a few extra weeks after Covid to bond.
“I really have to hand it to our seniors pulling the team together given this Covid environment. You miss a lot of natural bonding time. Then, to realize, ‘Hey, guys we’re pretty good. Let’s believe in what we’re doing here.’ It showed and it worked well for everybody.”
The Irish in 2020 also were led by defender TJ O’Brien – who Russell said had a great senior season – as well as freshman defender Liam Fahey, junior defender Alex Russell and senior wide midfielder Jake Wallmeier, who retired as a goaltender because of an early-season shoulder injury and became a field player.
Russell said senior Jackson Ryan also had big-time senior season, and the Irish also were keyed by junior outside midfielder Luke Hern, junior attacker Chris Kiki and right midfielder Will Baker.
“I told them at the end that the thing I’ll think most about was I think we left a little meat on the bone,” Russell said. “I do think this team had the talent and togetherness and the ability and the grit to win sectional and to get out of regional. When I look at this team, I felt like this team will walk away saying, ‘Uh, we had a little more in us.’ We were a good team and we could have done something special.
“That doesn’t make it a negative. We dealt with Covid and that challenge is difficult. I was happy with how this team came together and made a run. This team was gritty. Hopefully, the lesson that that they’ll take away is to roll up their sleeves and get after it in life. Hopefully, there are lessons learned about grinding.
“This team should take away some good life lessons that collectively you can do more than you can individually and really believe in determination.”