NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The line in the sand was drawn on Nov. 8, 2017.
Who gets a leg up between the Medina and St. Ignatius boys soccer programs will be determined tonight at 7 at North Ridgeville when the schools play each other in a Division I state semifinal for the third straight season.
In 2016, the Wildcats ended the Bees’ season with a 3-2 overtime victory en route to their third straight state crown. Last season, Medina returned the favor with a 2-0 win and eventually finished runner-up to Beavercreek.
When action heats up at North Ridgeville this evening, the rubber match will begin at a fevered pitch.
“We’ve been waiting for this game for a year,” St. Ignatius coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Every player on this team has been waiting for this rematch. This was the game that every player and coach has wanted since last November. When we started practice on Aug. 1 this is what we had our eyes set on. It was getting a chance to go at Medina again. We’re excited to have that opportunity.”
Like the Wildcats (18-1-2), the Bees (16-1-4) wouldn’t have it any other way.
They remember the controversial penalty kick at Strongsville that knocked them out in 2016 and haven’t forgotten Cole Werthmuller’s game-winner at Nordonia that ended the Wildcats’ three-year reign in D-I last season.
“We’ve wanted to play them again since the beginning of two-a-days,” Medina defender Tommy Guta said. “I always love playing them because it’s great competition. We both will go out and play our hardest. We might not be friends on the field, but after the game we both respect each other. It’s just fun because we both have one win on each other in the state semifinals so it’s kind of a grudge match here.”
St. Ignatius comes in with just a 3-1 loss to the No. 1 team in the nation in St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, N.J.). Ranked sixth nationally by TopDrawerSoccer.com, the Wildcats have scored 101 goals. Medina’s lone loss came in a 3-1 defeat to Strongsville. The Bees are ranked 36th by TDS.
Unlike seasons past, when the teams were led by a prolific goal scorer, both squads know how to fill the net with multiple targets.
Matthew McLaughlin (16 goals, 20 assists, 52 points) leads the way for the Wildcats, but St. Ignatius has so many other weapons. Bryce Horton (12, 5, 29), Kory Nekoloff (10, 5, 25), Kyle Healy (10, 4, 24), Henry Curtis (10, 3, 23), Everett Shorey (8, 5, 21), Kyle Folds (9, 1, 19), Ryan Roberts (7, 2, 16), Austin Zeleznik (4, 8, 15), Theo Kudlo (2, 7, 11) and Joe Katic (4, 2, 10) have shown the ability to get it done.
“There’s a lot of flexibility,” Medina coach Simon Spelling said. “There’s a lot of players that can hurt you and that makes it very difficult to stop.”
Likewise, the Bees get it done with Parker Csiszar (15 goals, 9 assists, 39 points), Werthmuller (10, 1, 21), Josh Cabacungan (11, 4, 26), Mike Kelly (7, 4, 18) and Guta (4, 4, 12).
That makes every play magnified and every pass important.
“Every little thing is a big thing in games like this,” Mike McLaughlin said. “The first goal, the first chance on goal, the last two years there has been a small margin between winning and losing. Starting out strong is pretty critical.”
While Medina has given up only 11 goals this season to St. Ignatius’ 18, both squads have been a wall on the defensive front.
The Wildcats, who opened with a 12-1 win over Parma, are outscoring opponents 28-1 in the playoffs. Medina holds a 17-1 advantage in the postseason and would have five blank slates if not for a penalty kick conversion by Copley in the Akron District final.
“We want to get back to where we were last year and hopefully do better,” Werthmuller said. “We want to do it for the seniors this year. We obviously wanted to do it for the seniors last year, but couldn’t get it done (in the state final).”
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- Regional final win over Northview gives Medina another shot at St. Ignatius
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