It started in tough, testing fashion. It ended dramatically. Cathedral High School 2022 boys soccer overcame injury, adversity and a difficult schedule. By season’s end, they were tournament tough and savvy. They also were of the state’s best teams. “It certainly was an interesting year,” Irish boys soccer coach Joel Russell said. “I couldn't be more proud of the boys.”
The Irish finished the 2022 regular season with a 3-6-5 record and unranked in the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association Class 3A rankings in Russell’s third season as head coach. They then went on a memorable postseason run that included three consecutive victories on penalty kicks.
“We started to put some things together,” Russell said. “Everyone had kind of written us off. The belief the players had was great to see. It was evident when we got into our playoff/penalty kick run and the players were believing and working for each other. I said I thought we had all the pieces to win a state title at the start of the season. We didn't change that mantra even though our record indicated maybe we should be shooting for something a little lower.”
The Irish beat Class 3A No. 1-ranked Carmel 1-1 in penalty kicks in a regional final at Carmel. That came after a 1-1 regional-semifinal victory over East Central in penalty kicks, which followed a 1-1 victory over Perry Meridian in a sectional final.
The Irish lost to Columbus North 2-1 in the semi-state round and finished the season 10-8-5.
“The sad part is you always feel like there’s a little left out there you just didn’t get,” Russell said. “Columbus North beat us twice. That being said, you look at the game and you look at how we stacked up and you just walk away frustrated, shaking your head. How do we lose that game? I think we could have beat them in the regular season and I think we should have beat them in the playoffs.
Russell called sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Wallmeier “lights outs” in the postseason.
“He did his job,” Russell said. “We just figured, ‘Teams probably are going to miss one, he’ll save one and then we'll do the rest.’ We did.”
Also keying the postseason were multiple players, with senior forward Josh Wesseling – as he did throughout the season – providing potent offense and clutch goals. After dealing with multiple injuries throughout the season, Wesseling finished with 10 goals and nine assists.
“He didn’t get credit for quite a few assists where he got taken down in the box when we scored on a penalty kick,” Russell said. Russell called Wesseling and sophomore Cal Kurzawa the hub of the Irish offense. Kurzawa finished the season with 17 goals and 11 assists. “When they did well offensively, the team did well,” Russell said.
Also key: Senior midfielder Ayrton Graziano (two goals, seven assists), who Russell called “a player that you like having on your team and you knew every fan on the other team was rooting against,” and senior backup goalkeeper Jack Lefebvre who Russell called “a quiet leader.”
The season highlight: The penalty-kick victory over Carmel, which came less than a month after a 4-1 loss to the top-ranked Greyhounds. The Irish took a 1-0 lead in the postseason rematch, allowing a late goal before a scoreless overtime and the penalty kicks. “We had a great game plan,” Russell said. “We defended in numbers, kept our lines tight. We countered and did some great things. Candidly, I don't think that should have gone to PKs in this game. It’s hard to say if we’d have success against them if we played again, but in Regionals on that day, our boys were dialed in and they executed the game plan. I don't think we snuck out of there with the win. I think we earned it.”
The postseason run not only made for a memorable season, it established a foundation for a potentially bright future for a program that featured strong underclass classes. Midfielders Jordan Wedges and Quinn Bateman contributed as freshmen in 2022, with Kurzawa, Wallmeier and defenders Gavin Bateman and Sawyer Sheetz forming the core of a strong sophomore class.
Midfielders Kenyon Neal and Liam Fahey and defenders Landon Korous and Emmett Hern should form the core of the 2023 senior class.
“We’ve got a great incoming senior class,” Russell said. “Expectations are high. It's Cathedral. Anything short of state title and you feel like you left something on the table. But I like the outlook. We're headed in the right direction. It's a process and I hate to say you, but you must be patient with it. And so now, the challenge to the boys next year is going to be how do we take it a step further?”