Saint Ignatius soccer is a national powerhouse program with plenty of hardware to prove it. Superstar players and superstar young men have made their marks on Wildcats soccer in 25 seasons under Head Coach Mike McLaughlin '85.
Now, the Class of 2020 has made its own indelible mark upon the program.
The 2019 Wildcats are Co-National Champions!
Top Drawer Soccer announced the coronation of the Wildcats on Tuesday morning. The Soccer Cats will share the throne with St. Benedict's Prep (NJ) after the two teams tied, 2-2, in an epic battle in September. Like the Wildcats, the Gray Bees claimed a state title.
The Wildcats now have five national championships after securing titles in 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2016. The Cats also shared the 2005 crown with St. Benedict's Prep. Only the Gray Bees (13) have more national titles than the Wildcats.
On Sunday, the Wildcats secured the OHSAA Division I State Championship. The men of Ohio City rolled past Olentangy Liberty, 4-0, for the ninth state title in program history. No Ohio team has more state crowns than the Wildcats. (For a game recap, click here)
"We always want to win the state championship. Because of the success we've had the last couple of decades, we've been put on a national stage," said Coach McLaughlin. "We also want to be the best team in the country, and why not. You want to be the best. One of our goals is to be national champs. It is a poll, but we've set our schedule up to compete on this national stage. That's what sports is about. Getting out there and trying to prove yourself."
Without a doubt, the 2019 Wildcats more than proved themselves with a 21-0-2 final record.
From the start of the season, anticipation was high around the program. The Wildcats returned 15 seniors and a wealth of talent all around the field. The program sent Matthew McLaughlin, Peter Van Euwen, and Kyle Folds to the Allstate All-American Cup before the start of the season, as the trio played with other top teams from across the country.
"At the beginning of every season, you look at what you have and think, 'This is a really good team.' We've had a lot of really good teams," McLaughlin said. "But you can't make the final statement until the season is over and talk about where they rank."
But nothing was guaranteed. The Wildcats played a Who's Who of teams in the regular season, including previous No. 1 teams St. Benedict's Prep and Peoria Notre Dame.
As McLaughlin said before the season, it is one of the hardest schedules in the program's history. Looking back on it, McLaughlin is amazed at how the Wildcats overcame every challenger.
"When I put together the schedule, I thought, 'This might be too much.' Several people said to me that it was too much," McLaughlin said. "In high school football, you play once a week and have a chance to rest. In soccer, you play mid-week and then weekends, and sometimes twice on a weekend. It's hard to do."
But in true Ignatian fashion, the adversity of the schedule only fuelled the Wildcats.
The Soccer Cats only became closer as a team, molding into a family.
"The season can either make you into a team, or break you. It's a real tribute to these boys because there were 15 seniors, and only 11 can start," Coach McLaughlin said. "And beyond those 15 seniors, there were 10 very good sophomores and juniors. It could have been really difficult. These kids are all very talented soccer players and high achieving. When you're a great player, you want to be on the field and show yourself. We talked about it and kept creating situations and an environment for them to become a team. The games and the competitions we did in practice brought them together. They put their individual desires aside and realized that if they worked together as a group, something really special could happen."
As the dust settles, the Wildcats can now be called state and national champs. The pride of Cleveland rolled through the postseason, outscoring opponents by a margin of 37-2.
Beyond that, these Wildcats are among the best teams to wear the blue and gold in school history.
"This team clearly ranks among the greatest of all-time," said the Wildcats' 25-year veteran coach. "This was the most dominant playoff run we've ever had, because of how we performed and who it was against. With the number of Top 10 teams we played nationally, the way we scored goals, and how we didn't let teams score was very impressive."
Every goal the Wildcats set out to accomplish, they achieved.
"I talked yesterday at the rally about the three key points: Being a team, believing, and fighting. We embodied those three things," said Coach McLaughlin. "I'm incredibly proud and excited about what we've done. In the game of soccer, so many things can happen to derail your plans. Referees, good opponents, all kinds of things. I've been doing this for a long time – for this to come together the way it did is incredible."