Over the course of the 21 games in the 2018 season, the Saint Ignatius varsity soccer team has scored 101 goals.
Now, just one goal remains – a state championship.
A familiar foe stands between the Soccer Cats and November glory, a team the Wildcats have seen several times before. The 16-1-4 Medina Bees will face the Cats tonight at 7 p.m. at North Ridgeville High School.
The two teams have a stirring history. The Wildcats and the Bees will meet tonight in the State Semifinal for the third year in a row. Saint Ignatius won in 2016 in a classic, a 3-2 overtime win decided by a Stephen Milhoan penalty kick goal. Medina won on a chilly night in Nordonia in 2017, 2-0, scoring an early goal before rolling back on defense to protect the lead. Medina's win snapped the Wildcats' 26-game winning streak in the postseason, an OHSAA record.
Both sides agree, the matchup has turned into a rivalry.
The teams know each other well, adding to the rivalry. Head Soccer Coach Mike McLaughlin '85 has a unique perspective, too.
"The rivalry with Medina, things just happen organically over the years. It's been a nice rivalry," McLaughlin said. "I've coached several of these Medina players. I know them and their families, and there are a lot of great kids and great families. It's nice to battle against somewhat of a known enemy. All of the kids on both teams know each other well. It's a wonderful statement for Northeast Ohio that our kids are doing well and representing at the highest level."
The Wildcats enter the game having won nine straight since falling to the national champion St. Benedict's Prep, 3-1. Five of those wins have come via a shutout, including the last three playoff games, in which the Wildcats have outscored foes 12-0.
The men of Ohio City are a dangerous team with a host of playmakers. Matthew McLaughlin, Bryce Horton, Kory Nekoloff, Kyle Healy, Henry Curtis, Kyle Folds, and Everett Shorey all have 8 or more goals this season. The Wildcats have surpassed 100 goals scored in a season for just the fourth time in program history (106 in 2010, 127 in 2015, and 129 in 2000).
On the defensive side, Peter Van Euwen is an exceptional goalkeeper with just 11 goals allowed in 17 games this season, including 7 shutouts. Danny Kalic, Nolan Bartolone, Theo Kudlo, Austin Zeleznik and many others have played well in front of him all season.
The Wildcats enter the game ranked No. 7 in the country by Top Drawer Soccer and No. 9 in the USA TODAY rankings. Top Drawer Soccer and USA TODAY both rank the Cats as the No. 1 team in Ohio and in the Great Lakes region.
On the flipside, Medina comes in with plenty of hype, too, all deserved. The Bees have a solid squad from top to bottom.
Medina has allowed just 11 goals all season, outscoring foes 17-1 in the playoffs. Parker Csiszar (15 goals, 9 assists) leads the team in scoring with 39 points. Cole Werthmuller is the team's postseason star, following his game-winning goal vs. the Cats last season. This year in the playoffs, Werthmuller scored 2 goals vs. Firestone, an assist vs. Copley, and the game-winning goal vs. University School.
Other players to watch include Josh Cabacungan (11 goals, 4 assists), Mike Kelly (7 goals, 4 assists) and Tommy Guta (4 goals, 4 assists). Nnamdi Seukwa is also a great player. A center midfielder, Seukwa is an exchange student from Germany who was called up from the JV squad in the later stages of the season and has starred ever since.
According to Top Drawer Soccer, the Bees enter as the No. 36 team in the country, the No. 4 team in the Great Lakes, and the No. 2 squad in Ohio.
Rivalry games can bring added pressure and attention, which some might view as a negative. Not Coach McLaughlin.
"One of the great things about sports is that emotion plays such a huge factor in rivalries and history. That's what inspires and motivates you to do great things," said the 24th year coach. "We're at a great point where what happened last year has stayed with us. Some of the great runs we've had in the past, some of the great championships we've won have been earned because we've been inspired and motivated by things that have happened in previous years."
"It makes you better, McLaughlin continued. "I hope that through playing soccer at Saint Ignatius, players get opportunities to be in important moments and have to deal with pressure-packed situations. That will happen as they go on in life. It's a great chance to be on a big stage and have to step up and perform and be your best, to work with your teammates and solve problems. That will serve as great lessons for these guys as they go on in their life."
But regardless of the result, McLaughlin will be proud of his team.
The Wildcats have achieved plenty this season, and not just on the soccer pitch.
"Today, I find myself thinking about the many goals we've set for this season, one of which is to win the soccer game tonight," McLaughlin said. "But we have several others – our primary goal is Arete, seeking perfection and being your best in whatever moment you are in. Whether it's soccer or school or just being with your friends and family, or trying to make life better for other people. I feel proud today of this team, because they're not just about soccer. They're about so many more things. I want to win tonight, but I look at this group of young men and think, 'They wear the shield on their shirt with great pride and they will represent us well tonight.'"