With no Illinois High School Association state series in boys soccer this school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Timothy Christian focused its efforts on its own “Super Bowl” of sorts.
The Trojans, under the direction of coach Joel Zielke, squared off against longtime rival Wheaton Academy on March 22. Wheaton Academy has five state trophies to its credit since 2005 and four since 2012, including winning the 2014 Class 2A state title. Timothy
boys soccer program, of course, is no slouch either, racking up four state trophies since 2008 and winning the state championship in 2009 and 2015.
“It was a huge game for us,” Zielke said. “We talked going back to last summer of the idea that there probably wasn’t going to be a state series and we were trying to figure out ways for the group to be remembered. We knew we hadn’t beaten Wheaton Academy in a long time. It was definitely a big focus for us going into the season.”
Focus turned into results for the Trojans, who vanquished Wheaton Academy 3-0 on its home field.
“It was a great game —back and forth in the first half,” Zielke noted.
The two sides went into halftime tied 0-0. Zielke noted some halftime adjustments were made and three Josh Bode goals later, the Trojans had a huge program win. “The kids were super-motivated,” he said. “In general, the team played a very solid 80 minutes of soccer, defended well, possessed well and was physical. We couldn’t finish scoring opportunities in the first half, but in the second half we kept pouring it on and the goals finally came.”
Senior Jason Westra earned the shutout in goal against Wheaton Academy.
“It meant everything to us to beat Wheaton,” Bode said. “We have played at their place the past four years, so to have them come here meant we got to play in front of our friends and family. Wheaton had some strong results against good sides before us, so we might have even gone into the game doubting ourselves a little bit, but once we played a half and knew we were better than them. We really turned the jets on and took off in the second half. We also didn’t have a chance at state this year, so the Wheaton game was a chance to make our mark. It was our state game, if you will.”
Zielke’s squad finished the season 8-4-2 overall and went 7-3 against a competitive Metro Suburban Conference schedule that saw late-season jockeying for league final positioning occur, so much so that Timothy went from first to fourth place during the final week of the season.
Zielke said beyond the wins and losses, the trials and tribulations of the pandemic brought out his team’s true colors even more as a family unit.
“Every sport this year had unique circumstances,” he said. “We really bonded well as a group. We practiced more than any other team I have had in the past. We grew as a family. It’s the strongest bond I have seen in a while, and we played great soccer. A lot of guys came up from the junior varsity last year and contributed for us this season, and those juniors who were seniors this season grew into leaders. Guys on the varsity got good minutes knowing August is coming up soon and our season will start up again. I was really pleased with what I saw.”
Zielke admitted the touch-and-go nature of pandemic-related rules made keeping the train on the tracks challenging at times.
“In July the more sport-specific green light was given with the ball, but no games, scrimmages or inter-squad,” he said. “It was a big letdown in August when the season was to be postponed and then having the fall opportunity for practice and playing the inter-squad games was good. It was a relief for our kids to be out there and make things normal during the day. And then we were super-excited in February when we were able to start the season. I would say this season was an emotional roller-coaster. There were a lot of highs and lows and getting hopes up only to be let down. What we did this season speaks to the resiliency of the boys being able to push through all of that and have a great year.”
Zielke added another major help for the team was its reliance on faith.
"I love coaching at Timothy is for the opportunity to mold and shape young men as spiritual leaders and help them in their faith walk." Coach Joel Zielke
“It’s obviously a huge component of our program,” Zielke said. “We have devotions and we pray and talk about different things as a team on a daily basis. This is one of the great reasons I love coaching at Timothy is for the opportunity to mold and shape young men as spiritual leaders and help them in their faith walk. I can’t imagine coaching somewhere else where you wouldn’t have the ability to do that. Some of these guys have matured into seniors, not only as players but in their spiritual lives as well. It’s really great to see how mature they have become with that in their four years here.”
On the awards front, senior and four-year varsity defender Mike Vogt was named an Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association all-sectional pick, while Bode, also a senior and the owner of 21 goals this season, was named all-sectional honorable mention. Bode earned Daily Herald DuPage County all-area honors as well, and was one of three all-MSC picks along with Vogt and junior Christian Cruz, who had 17 assists out of the midfield and will be looked to as a key Timothy playmaker next season. Junior Ethan Lemkuil tied senior Jackson Day for second-most goals on the team behind Bode.
Westra also will graduate, along with classmates Josh Kiefer (outside midfield), Day and Jalen Wallace, who is headed to NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis. Wallace was injured for much of the season and played only 30 minutes on senior night.
“We have some big holes to fill,” said Zielke. “We are losing six seniors, but everybody else should be back and we have quite a few underclassmen who played a lot of minutes for us. We will be looking to the returning kids to step into that capacity as leaders.”