Wilmington High School senior Seth Gundlach is getting his wish. Though it is one many athletes hope for, not all are able to achieve it.
“I think that the goal for this season, in my mind, was to make it as far as possible in the tournament and to make this season as memorable as possible,” said Gundlach, a senior midfielder on the WHS boys soccer team.
Simple enough. Mission accomplished.
At least in part.
The 2017 season has certainly been a memorable one for the Hurricane program. Despite falling short in its bid to win the SBAAC American Division championship, Wilmington is the only league team still in the post-season tournament, head coach Imad El-Macharrafie said.
How far will “as far as possible be?” That will be determined with the team’s next match.
On Saturday night, Wilmington will play for the school’s first boys soccer district title against state-ranked Tippecanoe. The kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Waynesville High School.
“We really have something special going on here at WHS,” El-Macharrafie said.
The seniors knew they would have to be the leaders for a young team, a team with potential but short on varsity experience.
“We knew that our senior class was very important to our team success,” senior Sam Spirk said.
Spirk, Gundlach and classmates Nate Lakes, Charly Schumacher, Adao Russo and Raevon Swan make up the six seniors who have led the Hurricane to an 11-5-2 record. WHS is 8-2-2 in its last 12 games.
“From preseason on, we stressed to the players that ‘team chemistry’ was the No. 1 goal on the coaches list,” El-Macharrafie said. “More often than not, boys at this age, with inflated egos, fail to buy into a system that strives toward achieving one common goal. This is not the case here. We are fortunate to have a core of seniors who have been committed to do what’s best for the team.”
And that includes record-setting personal accomplishments by Gundlach (WHS season assist record) and Spirk (WHS season goal record).
“I was not concerned about or even thinking about getting assists in any of our games,” Gundlach said. “All I thought about was winning the game. It didn’t matter to me if I broke the record or not. The thought never crossed my mind when the season started.”
The seniors are sprinkled throughout the field – Spirk, Swan and Schumacher up front, Gundlach in the midfield and Russo and Lakes in the back – to give each position group clear-cut leadership.
“The seniors led the way and the underclass players – Jake Vaughan, Josh Vaughan, Eli Hicks, Garrett Neff, Graham Vilvens, Matt Butcher, Brady Vilvens, Jacob Romer, Collin Webber, Caleb Reed, Avery Bradshaw and Takaki Nishino – followed suit,” El-Macharrafie said.
On defense, the WHS coach said players such as Lakes, Russo and Neff have been together and are familiar with each other’s tactics and abilities.
That said, the addition of Butcher, a tall, lanky freshman, at stopper has been a near flawless transition.
“He has been at stopper every game for us this year,” El-Macharrafie said. “He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s a really good soccer player and I think his IQ helps him. He’s really smart.”
In the midfield, Gundlach is a player the others can “rally around,” El-Macharrafie said. New faces such as Josh Vaughan, Brady Vilvens, Hicks and Romer are technically sound soccer players but needed to “learn how to tactically play the game,” the coach said.
“It took a while, it took a lot of growing pains but I am very thankful they are maturing at the right time,” said the former Wilmington College men’s soccer All-American.
Spirk and Schumacher lead the way up front but Schumacher has struggled to find a healthy regime that helped him score 17 goals last season. Despite that, he’s a playmaker that gives opponents plenty of trouble.
“We were not as healthy, especially the first half of the year,” said El-Macharrafie, noting Schumacher’s absence for four games. “Then we started to get healthy, slowly.”