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updated: 10/15/2012 9:26 PM

St. Edward soccer team reaching for new heights

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  • St. Edward senior Johnny Shepherd celebrates his goal over Elgin Academy in the regional semifinals last week. The Green Wave take on Genoa-Kingston in today's 4:30 p.m. sectional semifinal at Wedgebury Soccer Complex in Rockford.

       St. Edward senior Johnny Shepherd celebrates his goal over Elgin Academy in the regional semifinals last week. The Green Wave take on Genoa-Kingston in today's 4:30 p.m. sectional semifinal at Wedgebury Soccer Complex in Rockford.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

Fall sports accolades at St. Edward High School have not gone the way of the boys soccer team in recent years.

In fact, while the Green Wave's girls volleyball and football teams have seen some postseason success in recent years, only once in the 22-year history of the boys soccer program has a postseason plaque gone to St. Edward.

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Make that twice.

With their 2-1 Class 1A regional final win over Westminster Christian last Friday, the Green Wave became the first team since 2004 and only the second in program history to earn a regional championship. Now the task becomes tougher, as St. Edward (10-12) takes on Genoa-Kingston (14-6-1) in today's 4:30 p.m. Keith Country Day sectional semifinal at Wedgebury Soccer Complex in Rockford.

"There's no pressure on us," said St. Edward coach Tim Brieger, who with assistant Chris Holze played on the first St. Edward boys soccer team in 1990, Brieger's senior year before going on to DePauw University.

"We're the least likely of the four teams to be there."

While some may look at the 10-12 Green Wave record and wonder, the 10 wins this season are the total number of games the last three St. Edward teams won. The four wins in a row the Wave currently have are as many games as they've won in a single season the last three years.

"Over the four years we've definitely improved," said senior midfielder Nick Semler. "The great majority of the seniors have played four years and gotten to know Brieger and his style of play so that we can perform our best."

Brieger, who coached the 2010 St. Edward girls team to fourth place in Class 1A, is quick to point out that he only has a few club players on his squad, but that a roster of 26 is a far cry from a few years ago, when only nine players showed up for the first tryout.

"It's been tough for these kids. It's a collective mix of misfits and throw-togethers but they're so tight," says Brieger, who has been the Wave's head coach since 1995. "They're just great kids. each kid has a different personality. This is one of the most fun seasons I've had. When these seniors were freshmen they just got pounded on. We were almost afraid to send the kids on the field. But last year they started pushing back a little. When that clock hit zero on Friday it was something else. They were chest-bumping and hugging everyone."

What the Green Wave has learned more than anything over the years is skill.

"When I was a freshman we were OK," said senior mid Johnny Shepherd, who along with Semler, Carlos Moreno and Efrain Franco has started since his freshman year. "We didn't have many wins but we didn't have enough skill. We've grown a lot and brought good freshmen in through the years. Hopefully that will continue.

"A lot of our improvement has come from coaching. Brieger is really good at getting us to use our talents. That's helped us grow."

Semler agrees that St. Edward has become a soccer team, not just a bunch of kids playing soccer.

"We're passing the ball a lot this year and not being as greedy as in the past," he said. "We take opportunities to shoot the ball. You have to shoot the ball to score. Overall we've become better players."

Team unity hasn't hurt the Wave any either.

"We're like a family now," Semler says. "We do things together and we like each other."

Today's task will be no easy one, although Brieger points out that while Genoa beat a quality Kirkland Hiawatha team in the regional final, the Cogs have also lost to Elgin Academy and Westminster Christian this season, teams St. Edward beat in the regional.

"Genoa is a heck of a program and on paper we shouldn't be there," said Brieger, who told his team the story of the 2004 regional champ beating Harvard on overtime in the sectional final only to have the game-winning goal disallowed by an official who didn't see it before Harvard went on to win in the same stadium the Green Wave will play in tonight.

But games aren't played on paper, and the chance to take the program to a Sweet Sixteen for the first time is big-time motivation for the Wave.

"This is huge," Semler said. "It's been one of my dreams. This is more than a game. This is history. No team's made it farther. This would be a huge accomplishment."

A win tonight would make the careers of St. Edward's seniors, not that they won't already be proud of what they've accomplished.

"This game is huge," said Shepherd. "Obviously it's the biggest game of my soccer career. It all rides on this game. We just have to take things one step at a time and go in focused. It would be good to get a goal early and get the nerves out."

A win in tonight's game will mean something else -- they'll have to make room for another Sweet Sixteen banner in the St. Edward gym.

If that happens, don't be surprised if Brieger and his team volunteer to hang it.

jradtke@dailyherald.com

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