Every athlete dreams of a storybook career ending, like John Elway winning a Super Bowl at age 38. Most careers, however, end far less grandly, with little or no fanfare.
Angelo Catalano of St. Charles knew his collegiate soccer career at Illinois Wesleyan was coming to an end Nov. 2 against North Central College, regardless of which team won.
“I took a lot of time before that game and reflected on it,” Catalano said.
His journey to that moment of reflection began 17 years earlier, when his older brother Dominic began playing soccer.
“I was probably 4 when I started playing with him in the back yard,” Catalano said.
A couple of years later, the younger brother started playing organized soccer.
“I started playing traveling soccer when I was 8,” he said.
He tried other sports, like baseball.
“There was too much standing around,” he said. “My parents tried to get me into hockey, but I didn’t like the cold.”
He played with the Galaxy Soccer Club of Naperville and at St. Charles North High School, where he was a two-time all-conference selection. He said he did “the traditional college search type of thing” and was looking at Washington University in St. Louis and Xavier in Cincinnati when an assistant coach with his club team encouraged him to apply to Illinois Wesleyan.
“A couple days later, the coach gave me a call and asked me to come for a visit,” Catalano said.
He liked the campus and the coaches and players he met and decided to attend the school and major in accounting, a course of study “that came pretty easy and naturally to me. … I took a class in high school at North my junior year. I liked the teacher [Barb Schmit] who taught it.”
Catalano said he went through some fairly routine transition problems his freshman year, but stuck with Illinois Wesleyan.
“I definitely ended up being happy with it,” he said of his college choice. “In hindsight, just the way everything worked out between sports and the friends and I made here and the professional opportunities I’ve had, it was definitely the right choice for me.”
The professional opportunities included an internship at BDO in Chicago, a firm which provides a variety of financial services to other companies. The internship helped Catalano line up a job with the company, beginning in October.
He didn’t have much trouble transitioning to college soccer.
The 5-foot-8 midfielder played in 13 of 16 matches as a freshman, starting eight. He scored three goals, including a match-winner against North Central.
He wound up scoring nine goals during his collegiate career and last week was named co-recipient of the team’s MVP award.
“It was a little all over the place,” he said of his individual play over his four years in Bloomington. “It’s tough with the [NCAA] Division III regimen just focusing on sports. … I had some good plays, some good goals – not as many as I would have liked.”
The Titans went 34-30-5 in Catalano’s four years.
“We had some significant program wins,” he said. “Before I came here, we’d never beat the University of Chicago. We beat them twice. In the previous 20 years, we’d lost every time, so those were big wins.”
Still, the team was not quite able to put it all together to become a consistent winner.
“We were just right on the cusp,“ Catalano said. “It seems like the conference got better every year. … We had opportunities. Sometimes it was a bad bounce. Sometimes it was missed opportunities.”
He offered – as a case in point – a missed second-half penalty kick against then ninth-ranked Wheaton College when the score was tied. The Thunder wound up winning the match, 2-1.
That loss helped knock Illinois Wesleyan out of postseason contention, leaving Catalano and his teammates with nothing to play for but pride in their last game of the year against North Central. The Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but the Titans refused to go quietly. They scored a goal eight minutes after halftime and in the 83rd minute Catalano assisted on another to cut the deficit to 3-2. Illinois Wesleyan had one final chance to avert defeat, but a last-minute shot sailed high.
Catalano’s parents Vince and Melani, were on hand, as well as Dominic and his sister, Brittany.
“I think that gave me some pretty good closure,” he said. “It was definitely a rewarding four years all-around.”
So maybe it wasn’t a storybook ending. It was still a pretty good story.
• Dennis D. Jacobs has covered sports for newspapers in five different decades. To suggest local college athletes deserving recognition in the On Campus column, email him at email@example.com.