MACEDONIA — The Medina-St. Ignatius Division I state semifinal redux edition should have a completely different feel when they meet at Nordonia High School tonight in boys soccer.
Uber scorers Justin Libertowski and Stephen Milhoan are gone for the Bees and Wildcats, respectively. In their place are two well-rounded teams ready to continue magical seasons.
While three-time defending state champion St. Ignatius (15-3-3) and Medina (15-1-5) have a go-to scorer, the fact that both have more than one viable option makes the match intriguing.
“They’re trying to establish their own tradition instead of living off the legacy of other players,” Bees coach Simon Spelling said of his 2017 team.
It sounds simple because the Wildcats defeated Medina 3-2 in double-overtime last season.
With just two seniors in their starting lineup, St. Ignatius relies on sophomores Matthew McLaughlin (15 goals, 9 assists, 39 points) and Kyle Folds (8, 3, 19) and juniors Kory Nekoloff (14, 4, 32), Henry Curtis (6, 9, 21) and Bryce Horton (6, 1, 13).
The Bees counter with seniors Andy Prostor (17, 5, 39) and Riley Furey (6, 1, 13), with sophomore Parker Csiszar (3, 7, 13) and junior Ian Gummo (5, 3, 13) falling in line.
“We were a completely different team last year. They’re a completely different team,” St. Ignatius coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It’s such an exciting opportunity to showcase so many young players from this area.
“One of the neat things is a lot of these kids play with and against each other for years. It’s a pretty similar matchup. The fact we don’t have a Stephen Milhoan and they don’t have a Justin Libertowski opens the game up. That’s been the pattern for both of us. There’s been a more balanced number of kids that scored goals and had assists.”
The one thing similar is a strong backline.
Medina’s Andrew Horton, Tommy Guta, Mike Kelly and Brandon Leckie have logged 12 shutouts and are on a streak of three.
Likewise, Alexander Rohr, Ryan Notarianni, Austin Zeleznik and Nolan Bartolone have registered seven shutouts for St. Ignatius. Included are three in five postseason games.
Medina is coming off a 1-0 win over Sylvania Northview thanks to Gummo’s goal. The Wildcats stopped University School 1-0 in double-overtime on a score by Ryan Horton.
“The farther you go, the games get progressively harder,” Andrew Horton said. “It helps you prepare for a big game like this, especially in the final four. You see better attackers in each game.”
With young teams, experience shouldn’t be a game-changer. Medina’s two appearances in the state semifinals have come in back-to-back seasons.
St. Ignatius has been to the state semifinals 13 times with eight titles and one runner-up.
That said, not a single player for the Wildcats played in last season’s state final.
“We’ve learned a lot from our experiences a lot in the playoffs the past two or three years,” Spelling said. “We’ll see whether we’ve continued to learn. That will be finalized around 9 o’clock (tonight).
“We’ve learned that a district final is just a step. Last year, we won a regional final. This year, we want to go to a state final.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.