FRANKFORT – The Wheaton Academy boys soccer team practiced penalty kicks diligently in recent weeks, preparing precisely for this moment.
But needing to replicate their usual proficency on the IHSA Class 2A state semifinal stage – against a sizzling goalkeeper – the Warriors sputtered, losing a penalty-kick shootout and the match against Peoria Notre Dame, 2-1, on Friday at Lincoln-Way North High School.
“Really, it’s just nerves,” said Wheaton Academy junior Casey Zimmerman, one of three Warriors who were stymied in the shootout. “Going up against the keeper, I saw him in warm-ups dive well, he got down well. Really, if you don’t put the ball where you want it or if he guesses [the right way], he’s going to get there, most likely.”
Zimmerman scored with 7:53 left in regulation to tie the score at 1. The teams then played a pair of scoreless, 10-minute overtime sessions before entering the PK shootout, where both teams’ goalkeepers – Wheaton Academy’s Spencer Graf and Notre Dame’s Justin Buck – took center stage.
Notre Dame chose to shoot first, thinking it could deposit one early and put the heat on the Warriors.
But Graf, guessing right, stopped Notre Dame’s first two shooters.
“For the first and second, my goalkeeper coach told me, ‘10’s going left, 15’s going right,’ ” Graf said. “For the first and second, I made the save, and then the rest, it is what it is. It’s definitely tough, and you’re definitely counting on your teammates to come through, too.”
That was the catch. The Warriors’ Grant Stoneman and Zimmerman were stopped on Wheaton Academy’s first two shots, also, leaving the best-of-5 shootout scoreless after two rounds.
Notre Dame’s Nick Finerty scored on the Irish’s third try for a 1-0 lead, which was countered by Wheaton Academy’s Andrew Luetkehans for the Warriors’ lone conversion of the shootout.
But Notre Dame also netted conversions on its fourth and fifth tries while the Warriors’ Zeb Lewis was stopped on the Warriors’ fourth, clinching a 3-1 shootout and 2-1 match result in the Irish’s favor.
Wheaton Academy (21-7) will cap its season in today’s 11 a.m. third-place match against St. Viator.
The third-place match seemed inevitable until Zimmerman lifted the Warriors’ prospects with his blue-collar goal in the late stages of the second half. He managed just enough on a header of a bouncing ball in the box to tie the score at 1.
“They were guarding Stoneman in the middle very, very tight,” Zimmerman said. “He’s usually the one who comes through in the clutch, but the ball bounced out, and I just went up for it. I didn’t really know after I hit it where it went, and then I just saw two [Notre Dame players] in the goal trying to kick it out, and saw it go side netting. It was definitely just a workhorse goal.”
The Warriors were shorthanded in the late stages of the match and the PK shootout minus one of their top two scoring threats, senior Gareth Flynn. Flynn, who briefly left the match in the first half after rolling his ankle, hobbled off with 9:30 left in the second half after a collision left him feeling dizzy, according to Warriors coach Jeff Brooke. Brooke called Flynn’s absence in crunch time “really huge.”
Notre Dame (21-2-2) took a 1-0 lead with 29:29 to play in the second half on a header goal by senior Drew Whalen. Both teams had goals wiped off for infractions; Flynn appeared to put the Warriors up 1-0 in the game’s opening minutes, while the Irish’s bid to pad their lead to 2-0 was nullified by a hand-ball call.
Brooke described his postgame message to rally the Warriors for the third-place match “hard for the guys to receive,” but hoped a team gathering on Friday night would put his players in a better frame of mind.
“We’ll have a team meeting [Friday night] where we’ll really try to turn the corner on living life together, going through struggles and going through success,” Brooke said.