CHAMPS! Central boys soccer wins first state title

Jake Pfeiffer, News Editor & Copy Editor

For 48 minutes, the IHSA 3A Boys Soccer State Championship remained scoreless. Naperville Central and Romeoville High School each had several opportunities to score, but neither team had capitalized. 

Or at least, not until senior captain Josh Weigel received a pass close to the goal and delivered the ball to the back of the net.

“It was a great pass from Sean [O’Reilly] to me,” Weigel said. “He found me in the middle and all I had to do was go around the ball and finish it. It was awesome.”

That goal turned out to be the difference in the match, with Central defeating Romeoville 1-0 to secure the school’s first ever boys soccer state championship. 

“It felt amazing,” junior captain Patrick Berryman said. “It was just euphoria, being able to celebrate with my teammates after accomplishing something like this.”

The Redhawks went 20-3-1 in the regular season, based on a foundation of discipline, communication and work rate, according to head coach Troy Adams.

Adams attributed the team’s victory in the championship to the first of those pillars.

“Romeoville is a really good team,” Adams said. “They move the ball really well. The discipline to know ‘what’s my job, what’s my role?’ and then execute is a really huge thing.”

Adams believes that communication is what separated this year’s team from teams of previous years, in which Central had finished as high as third in the state.

“Even off the field, being able to go to pasta parties together and really [have] a sense of togetherness is really what separated them,” Adams said.

To assistant coach Mike Ortiz, the team’s work rate was evident from the beginning of the year.

“They worked well all offseason,” Ortiz said. “It made us that much tougher, that much stronger, and I believe it led to our success.”

The team benefitted from 10 players returning from the previous season.

“We knew we were going to be good,” Adams said. “We had a core group returning from a team that went to the ‘Sweet 16’ [sectional final] the year before. A lot of them were guys who had scored goals, which is always the hardest thing to do in soccer.”

The team’s first game helped build on those expectations.

“Starting out, we played [Morton,] the number eight team in the nation, and beat them,” Adams said. “I think that not only helped the coaching staff feel a lot more confident but more importantly, I think that that helped the players’ confidence throughout the beginning of the season.”

The win served as an indicator to the players of their potential.

“It showed us what we could become,” Berryman said. “It was the first sign our season was going to be something special.”

A 5-2 loss to Plainfield North ended Central’s first tournament of the year.

“I don’t think [the loss] made their confidence waver,” Adams said. “But I think what it made them realize is that we are good, but nothing’s gonna be handed to us and we’re gonna have to work for everything we want.”

In their very next game, Central defeated Naperville North for the first time in four years.

“It was one of our best games of the season,” Berryman said. ”We were all just so locked in. Beating them, and in my opinion, dominating that game, it showed me that this is a really good team. If we play like this, I’m confident that we can go far.”

After winning all but one of their remaining games, Central was ranked as the highest seed in their sectional. They faced Yorkville in the first round of the IHSA Regional and won 1-0.

“We got an eye opener in the first game of the playoffs, playing a Yorkville team, that if you put it on paper, we probably should have won six seven or eight to nothing,” Adams said. “We only won by one. We went in thinking that we were going to win, instead of demanding that we’re going to win and putting in all the effort and the work. That really helped kind of refocus us back to where we needed to be.”

Central went on to defeat Plainfield East 3-0 in the IHSA Regional Final, West Aurora 2-0 in the sectional semifinal and Naperville North 3-2 in the final to clinch a sectional victory.

“Against North we had jumped out to an early lead and they came back and took the lead,” Ortiz said. “I never felt like the boys thought this was too much of a gut punch to overcome. We were there mentally, we were strong, and we continued to push forward and because of that we created some really good chances and put North away.”

Advancing to the super sectional, Central defeated Hinsdale Central 4-3. That victory ushered Central into the state semifinals, where they won 5-0 against Stevenson. 

The state championship match itself represented a change of pace for the Redhawks, who took on an opponent in Romeoville different from what they’d seen throughout the playoffs.

“The previous three opponents leading up to the state final were very much counter to [our play style],” Ortiz said. “North is very direct, Hinsdale played us very direct, and Stevenson is very direct. Romeoville gave us the chance to play like how we think the game should be. 

To Ortiz, whose son was playing for the opposing Romeoville team, the game was everything soccer is supposed to be.

“We gave the state of Illinois the game it deserved,” Ortiz said. “It was like pins and needles, anything could’ve happened.”

Central’s victory was even more meaningful to Adams, who had two of his sons playing on his team. 

“It’s really hard to put into words the joy of seeing your own kids being able to celebrate something that they’ve been watching for 12 years, seeing disappointments and knowing how excited they were to be able to be a part of it,” Adams said. “From the parent’s side, being able to see how happy they were and how excited and joyful they were, and knowing that as a coach, I was able to help them accomplish that. That sense of pride is probably the best word that I can use.”

The coaches now have a new standard to hold the team to, according to Ortiz.

“It’s a good precedent [that we] set,” Ortiz said. “And teams moving forward have something to gauge and judge [their success] from because of what this team was able to put together.” 

Jay Deegan contributed to this story.