Coaches and players reflect on a tough but meaningful season.
Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams wrapped up their seasons on Nov. 2. The Thunder soccer program came up short in the playoff semifinals, with North Park University defeating the men’s team and North Central College putting an end to the women’s season.
Each squad had major changes in leadership. Julie Davis, the former director of athletics, hired two new coaches in the offseason: Patrick Gilliam was appointed last December as the new women’s head coach, and Steve McCrath was named men’s head coach in February.
Joey Sopikiotis, a senior defender on the men’s team, said he believed that despite the transition, the team continued to grow stronger.
“We’ve obviously had a lot of coaching changes, so the beginning of the season was definitely tough,” said Sopikiotis. “We’ve had some bad losses but we’ve gotten to a point where we started to build momentum and turn things around, but the beginning of the season was tough.”
Before conference games, they had a difficult streak of 3-3-2. But despite the losses early on, the team had a strong second half of the season: in conference games, they achieved a record of 5-1-2.
Senior defender Drew Beamer similarly praised the cohesion of the men’s team and their improved performance as the season progressed.
“The beginning of the season was a time of forming and coming together, and I would say around the sixth game, the team locked into step with one another, and we just went barrelling forward,” said Beamer.
The women’s team also faced many losses in the beginning of their season. Over the seven games played from Sept. 14 to Oct. 5, the Thunder went 0-2-5. Despite these challenges, the team found success in other ways, according to senior goalkeeper Lauren Ketchum.
“We didn’t give up when we lost four games in a row,” said Ketchum. “And when we thought we weren’t going to make the conference tournament, we ended up making it and finishing third. Considering how most people were doubting us and how the cards were stacked against us, that was definitely a success.”
Senior Ben Ferraro, a midfielder on the men’s team, said he felt that Wheaton soccer under McCrath has a bright future.
“I was really happy with how pushed us to play,” said Ferraro. “He has a plan and is actually developing a future for the program instead of trying to win the next game. I know this program is going in a really good direction.”
In the regular season, the men’s soccer team finished with seven wins out of their 16 games, and the women’s soccer team won five out of their 16 season games. But their losing records did not stop the players from having a meaningful season, on and off the field.
“I wouldn’t change it for anything, because I saw individual growth in each player and individual growth in me too as a player,” said senior women’s forward Molly Thorne.
Women’s head coach Patrick Gilliam addressed the team’s loss in their final game. For Gilliam, the last game captured their spirit of determination.
“I’m just really proud of the girls,” said Gilliam. “ I saw all that on the field – the perseverance, the fight, the toughness, the grit. All those things that a coach wants to see.”
Giliam also highlighted the vulnerable, loving relationships that he said the student athletes fostered over the season.
Likewise, Coach McCrath, the men’s coach, praised the authentic camaraderie of the men’s team.
“The one thing I see different in this group is that when they say they’re praying for you, I legitimately know they are praying for you,” said McCrath. “These guys are probably the richest group of guys I’ve ever coached. They really mean it when they say it.”