Chaminade has tormented SLUH soccer for years. Last year, it was the Red Devils who knocked the Jr. Bills out of the District Tournament with a 1-0 win. That same season, Chaminade took the regular season match against SLUH by the same score. Two years ago, it was a 5-1 loss. In fact, it’s been years since SLUH has topped Chaminade in soccer. This year, even the star-studded roster of the Jr. Bills fell victim to the Chaminade curse in a close 1-0 loss. Now, with a single loss eating away at their record, the Jr. Bills (11-1-1) are trying to stay positive with their sights set on late October. 

SLUH students in the fateful game against Chaminade. 

The Chaminade game marred what was an otherwise successful week for SLUH. Dominant shutout wins against O’Fallon and St. Mary’s in the opening games of the Jr. Billiken Classic as well as an important win against state powerhouse Fort Zumwalt South last Saturday propelled them to their second tournament win of the year. Senior Stephen Saladin was one of four SLUH players selected to the All-Tournament team, and for good reason. Saladin notched a hat trick in SLUH’s 4-2 win against Fort Zumwalt and had a goal in each of the two prior games. His speed and aggressiveness with the ball at his feet continues to be a significant asset for the Jr. Bills. When Saladin’s presence was lacking a few days later against Chaminade, for example, it showed. 

Capping off SLUH’s week was yet another piece of good news: the national ranking had been upped. After sitting at No. 10 in the country the week before, United Soccer Coaches now lists SLUH at No. 4 in the country in their most recent poll.  

Without much time to celebrate their new hardware or recognition, though, the Jr. Bills were thrown quickly into a game with significant ramifications for the end of the season on Tuesday. Chaminade is the only other MCC school in SLUH’s district bracket and they are shaping up to be SLUH’s biggest competition in the hunt for that title. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for SLUH is Chaminade’s defense. From the start, it was clear they had done their homework.

“I thought Chaminade played a great game,” said coach Bob O’Connell. “I’ve seen them a couple times recently and I thought they played very well. They were organized and they seemed to have the energy of somebody who was going to come and try to prove something. They clearly did that.”

Despite the solid presence of the Jr. Bills through the middle of the field, none of their typical offensive tricks worked. Saladin was frequently schemed out while outside forwards Johnnie Ferrara and Tyler Van Bree struggled to get to the ball into the box, especially in the second half. Sophomore Grant Locker did have a breakaway chance in the first half, but no goal to show for it. 

Once Chaminade opened the scoring on a restart ball that got past sophomore keeper Chris Lewis, it seemed to be quite an uphill climb for SLUH. 

“The goal was frustrating. Nobody was aware enough,” said O’Connell. “There was a lot of ball watching and even as we threw players forward we could never find the space. The soccer decisions in the final third (of the field) were just not there.”

As time expired in the second half, desperation grew for the offense, who frequently found themselves chasing after balls cleared by Chaminade defenseman. With five minutes to go in the second half, Ferrara took a pass through the top of the box and SLUH fans were on their feet. Just like the rest of their opportunities that night, though, Ferrara’s angle was cut off before a shot materialized and a goal kick was the result.

SLUH walked off the field Tuesday night disappointed. After more time to process the loss, though, some positive takeaways emerged. 

“It was a tough loss,” said senior defender Matt Kluba. “It’s not something that’s pretty, it’s not fun, but we learned from it. I think the pressure’s off now. There’s no undefeated record we have to chase after, and like Coach said, that’s not the goal.The goal is to win districts.”

Kluba referenced O’Connell’s unwavering dedication to the district title, an accomplishment he’s been chasing for a long time.

“This is just part of soccer. We never said we were going undefeated, we never said we were going to be top five in the country, that was nothing anybody ever talked about. What we wanted to accomplish was the district championship at the end of the year and all of that is still on the table,” O’Connell said. “We’ll be better because of (the loss).”

Now, SLUH looks to rebound in the coming week during a tough stretch of games. Following their mercy rule 8-0 win last night against Helias, the Jr. Bills face Quincy Notre Dame, an Illinois team with a strong 12-4-3 record, this Saturday and the formidable CBC on Tuesday night. Fans of SLUH Soccer will remember Ferrara’s last second heroics against the Cadets the last time they played. Unfortunately, so does CBC.

“We’ll use this week to train and get better because the CBC game will be a test,” said O’Connell. “They’re going to come out flying and the question is how will we respond from our loss. I think it will focus us. They feel that they didn’t give us their best effort last time so it’ll be a heck of a game.”

 SLUH will take the field at CBC on Tuesday night at 7:00.

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