NORMAL — A common refrain following the 0-0 tie between Normal Community High School’s soccer team and host Normal West on Thursday was, “I don’t know.”
NCHS coach Matt Chapman didn’t know if his team’s 8-0-2 Big 12 Conference record trumped Peoria Notre Dame’s 9-1-0 mark to clinch the league crown. The Ironmen topped Notre Dame head-to-head.
Normal West coach Val Walker, who had to sit out the game after receiving two yellow cards the previous contest, arrived afterward to say he didn’t know if Wildcat stars Parker Theobald and Jordan Walker would miss the Normal West Regional opener against Moline on Tuesday.
Theobald drew two yellow cards on Thursday while Jordan Walker picked up his fifth yellow card of the season, infractions that force players to miss the next game during the regular season.
What a large crowd knew after Thursday’s draw is that both teams played superb defense.
“I’m really, really proud of our defense and our goalkeeping,” said Chapman, whose team is 14-5-3 overall. “West is a team that scores a lot of goals. They have some great players who are really tough to keep in check.
“The game obviously got a little physical and tough and rough. I felt we handled our composure fairly well.”
Chapman singled out goalie Austin Woodside for praise along with his back line of Brady Fletcher, Ethan Holland, Kamoy Creary and Josue Nsukami. Chapman also praised center midfielders Kyle Byrd, Carson Oltman, Jared Nutt and Josef Halcomb for helping on defense.
Chapman, whose team topped West 2-0 in the Intercity Tournament, said the key to slowing flamboyant scorers like Theobald and Jordan Walker is proximity.
“You just have to be around them,” Chapman said. “You can’t give them room. The times they do have room, it’s scary.”
West assistant coach Brady Piepenbrink, filling in for Val Walker, said the key to slowing NCHS stars like Halcomb was “just don’t give him too much time and space. We didn’t build our game around him. We knew he was one of the weapons and we had to be ready for him.”
Piepenbrink applauded Wildcat goalie Ethan Stroyan for stopping several one-on-one threats. Guarding Stroyan was the back line of Matt Lage, Delphy Sabu, Zach Bergeron and Adam Conrad.
“We put in the effort today,” said Piepenbrink, whose team is 14-7-2 overall and 7-1-2 in the Big 12. “We committed to defense, which is something we’ve sometimes struggled with in the past. Ethan in the net made some big saves at big moments to keep us alive. It was a good game by both sides.”
The Ironmen and Wildcats could have a rematch in the regional final. The other scoreless ties for NCHS came against Urbana and Morton.
“Our defense always does a good job,” said NCHS goalie Woodside, whose team outshot West 14-8. “Teams don’t get many shots on us. We’ve had a lot of shutouts this season.”
Jordan Walker labeled the outing a “tough match.”
“We both defended well,” he said. “It’s also bad for me and Parker because we got yellows and reds and might not be able to play the next round.
“It was a good result for both teams. We’re on the rise from where we were. We’re definitely getting better. Hopefully we can get past Moline in the first regional game.”