Concordia Lutheran boys soccer relishes first chance at state title

Concordia boys soccer coach Kevin Macke, center, talks with his team during a practice Tuesday at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of
Noah Thomas, Concordia soccer player.
Jacob Sassmannshausen, Concordia soccer player.

A year after Concordia Lutheran High School made the state finals for the first time in football, they’ve reached it in boys “futbol.”

Offense keyed that football team a year ago. Defense runs the show in soccer.

Class 2A No. 17 Concordia (17-2-4) will play No. 1 Evansville Memorial (19-2-1) for the Class 2A state title at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium, Indianapolis.

“I can’t believe it,” junior defender Noah Thomas said. “It’s literally the last thing I would expect out of this team. But I’m very proud of the work on this team.”

Concordia coach Kevin Macke, in his 17th year as the Cadets coach, has molded a team full of defensive-minded players and the results have been stunning.

“It was just unbelievable how these seniors came together,” Macke said. “This spring when (the IHSAA tournament) went to three classes, Canterbury stayed below and some other teams we’ve had issues with in postseason were above us. This team, I knew, could be a special team this year.”

Here are some of the standout aspects of this year’s Cadets, much of it related to defense:

* Concordia has 14 shutouts in 23 games and four games where it allowed only one goal.

* Concordia has shut out four of six opponents in the postseason, and handed Hammond Noll only its second shutout of the season at semistate. The Cadets have allowed two postseason goals.

* After Jon Mueller and Joey Rucinski shared the goalkeeper post, allowing a combined 0.631 goals per game, Mueller took over as starter and Rucinski moved into the field as an attacking midfielder.

* Thomas earned Indiana Soccer Coaches Association All-District honors for District 2, along with senior forward Max Miller.

“We communicate really well with the defense we play,” senior midfielder Jake Sassmannshausen said. “We play well together. If we didn’t communicate so well, we wouldn’t be as good. It’s not just one player. We have a lot of depth.”

The lineup typically consists of Miller and junior Adam Gottschalk at forwards, junior Luke Aumick, senior Alberto Barbalena, senior Ben Loshe, Rucinski and Sassmannshausen at midfield, Thomas and seniors Wayne Armstrong and Jon Gick on defense with goalkeeper Mueller. Miller leads the team with 21 goals and 11 assists and Gottschalk has 19 goals with five assists.

“The chemistry between everyone on this team is unbelievable, unlike anything I’ve seen,” Thomas said. “Our defensive line works very well together, with Wayne and Jon Gick. We always communicate and that’s helped us to 14 shutouts.”

Macke said Thomas has made a big impact on the defense.

“Noah does a very good job when he wins the ball making sure he doesn’t turn it over when he distributes it out,” Macke said. “When the ball comes to him, he’s putting it on Sass’ feet or Max’s feet or finding the wingers that are open for us out wide.”

The switch of Rucinski from sharing goalkeeping duties to playing in the field was a big boost, too, Macke said.

“Jon and Joey pushed each other hard,” Macke said. “Those two were a reason defensive things were going on. They didn’t care who started, what the playing time was. They both pushed each other to be the best they could all season long.”

Macke finally decided he needed both in the starting lineup.

“We needed another athlete and attacking player, and Joey does a very good job of that,” Macke said. “He’s been playing on top with Adam and Max and being our attacking mid. He was training at that, and already coming in and playing on top in second halves.”

Rucinski’s unselfishness in playing where he’s needed has been typical of the Cadets’ total-team effort.

“We’re crazy excited, especially after last year with the football team going to state,” Sassmannshausen said. “For two years in a row to have a team that’s never gone to state get there – it’s that much more exciting. We knew we had the potential for going far. I don’t know if we saw state. We were like, we can win regionals. But when we won semsitate, we saw this is the real thing. This is a big deal.”