BY EDDIE DWYER, COPYRIGHT AUGUST 2014
OHIO CITY: Following a morning practice on Wasmer Field last week, Saint Ignatius' outstanding Head Soccer Coach Mike McLaughlin reflected on the past two seasons and the role those outcomes could play as his Wildcats gear up for their 2014 schedule.
"Sports are emotional, they're passionate," said Coach McLaughlin as he prepares for what will be his 20th season as the director of his alma mater's soccer program. "It's a passionate part of life and so I think the more bits and pieces you can attach their emotions to, to get them fired up, the better."
The emotions, or the fire in their bellies, that the 2014 Soccer Cats will carry with them is the fact that Saint Ignatius was eliminated in the district finals the past two seasons in shootouts to West Side rival St. Edward. What made last year's District Final loss (three to two in penalty kicks) on Wasmer Field tough to swallow was that a shot by Colin Cleary '14, last season's Offensive MVP, was ruled a save when in fact it was a goal. The film on the game verified Cleary's goal and the official who made the call, one of the best the state has to offer, apologized. Many of the current Wildcats describe the official who was involved in the call as being a great official and a "great guy."
Human error is a part of all athletic competition and the above facts are by no means a discredit to the outstanding game St. Edward played on the Wildcats' home field.
"Two years in a row, going out in a shootout to St. Eds, is definitely a huge part of the motivation for everything everybody is doing," said Coach McLaughlin, who will bring a career record of 311 victories, 44 losses and 42 ties, including 80 victories in 94 post season games, five Division I state championships, a state runner up and two national titles into Saturday's season opener versus the Solon Comets on Wasmer Field. The junior varsity action will begin at 1 PM, followed by the varsity encounter at 3. Solon played the 'Cats tough in a 2013 season opener on the Comets' home field before Saint Ignatius prevailed with two goals in a shutout victory.
"We play them (St. Edward) on Sept. 17th at their place (the pitch at Coughlin Field) and we've worked hard all off season and all summer because we don't want that to happen again," Coach McLaughlin continued. "That definitely stays with you and it's (the 2014 Wildcats) a veteran led group, a lot of seniors that have been part of it. They young kids are excited, but they didn't feel as much as some of the older kids from the last couple of years."
Helping fuel that veteran leadership will be three of the finest captains in Saint Ignatius' rich soccer history, a 38 year history that has produced an overall mark of 511-126-85.
"They're amazing kids and they're great leaders on the field," said Coach McLaughlin of senior goalie Mikal Outcalt, a University Pittsburgh recruit, senior defender and Davidson recruit David Sisson and senior midfielder and Holy Cross recruit Bobby Barsic. David was the Wildcats' Most Valuable Defender in 2013 and Bobby was the 2013 Midfield MVP.
"Our best teams have been so because we've had a great group of senior leaders," Coach McLaughlin said as he prepares his Wildcats for what could be an OHSAA record sixth boys state soccer championship. "The story remains to be told, we have to see how we finish. But it's really an exciting moment right now for the program."
Talent wise, Coach McLaughlin believes he has the players at key positions who can dominate games and that his Wildcats will score "a lot of goals this season."
That confidence is also boosted by the fact Saint Ignatius has a group of savvy senior defenders and two of the premier goalies in the state in Outcalt and fellow senior Clark Gronek.
"To really go far you have to have a big time goalkeeper, and we have two, and then you have to have a solid defense and score goals," said Coach McLaughlin. "I feel we have a lot of mature kids in those positions to do that. The talent is there, now I have to see that they're committed to working every day. There is a little grind to the season when you're going every day for three months and if they show that they love to go out there every day and battle, then that's the extra piece that will take us to where we want to go."
HOW THE CAPTAINS SEE IT
MIKAL OUTCALT: "From now on whenever we play St. Eds everyone is going to remember that goal. We have a lot of returning guys, so it's pretty much no excuses. We know our goal and we've known it for awhile now. Everyone realizes what we need to do and now it's just a matter of doing it. When we were freshmen we won a state championship and as seniors we have to show these underclassmen how to get that back.
"People are doubting us after the last two years and now it's our goal to show everyone that Saint Ignatius is still a big powerhouse in the state. We have our whole backline returning, me and Clark at goalie, Dave (Sisson), Matt Nigro, Jack Wiegandt and Hunter Gordon, so we really have no changes there and we're not expecting to give up anything. And up top, in the attack part of it, pretty much anyone we put up there can do something on their own, something special.
"We have a lot of weapons and all of the younger guys are good enough to be impact players. We just need to keep talking and stay on the same page. And Lawrence (gifted junior forward Lawrence Karpeh) and JoeMack (multi skilled senior midfielder JoeMack Leonardo) have to stay healthy.
"We're excited for it (a season in which many will regard Saint Ignatius as the team to be in the state). There's a new fire in us that hasn't been around for awhile. All summer long we've been champing at the bit to get back to practice."
BOBBY BARSIC: "With the amount of seniors we have, along with just the whole concept of us being more than a team, we're almost like a family out there, I think this year we're going to give it our all every minute and every second of every game. We don't want to even get to that situation again (overtimes, shootouts and PKs). We want to finish strong and win in regulation.
"I think we have one of the best, if not the best backline in the state. All of them are very strong players. As for our midfield, there is no question that even though Stephen (Milhoan) is just going to be a sophomore and Hayden (Parente) is just going to be a junior, we're going to be very dominant in there as well.
"Offensively, we just have to get more numbers going in the attack. Last year one or two people tried doing it on their own. We have to combine more when we get to the offensive third of the field, crossing more and getting numbers into the box."
DAVID SISSON: "I think we're the team to beat after the heartbreak of two years of losing to your rival. For the seniors who experienced it there is not much else, it is a real motivator to go hard right from the beginning of the season. There's not much else that is as inspiring to play hard as losing emotionally. We don't want to go through that again.
"There is nothing else to blame it on, this is our (the seniors) last chance. There is a lot of fight in us. We're going to go after the fifty/fifty balls and the second and third ball. As talented as you can be, there is still the aspect of how much do you really want to win it.
"Finishing," said David when asked about an area that the deep and flexible 2014 Wildcats have to improve on. "We always have and do have good forwards, but they never took shots last year, it seemed like. When they did it was wide or something happened. We would always seem to get where we needed to get to shoot and then we wouldn't shoot. We would take another touch or do something we didn't need to.
"Get hungry for the goals. That's how you win the games."
*For a complete look at the Wildcats' 2014 schedule, go to ignatius.edu, click on athletics and click on soccer.