Section title a long time in the making for Lourdes seniors
Rochester Lourdes has been the gold standard in Section 1A boys soccer for more than two decades. The Eagles are back to that standard, winning their first section title in six years. To do so, they beat an up-and-coming program — Dover-Eyota — that is quickly becoming what Lourdes is: A perennial section championship contender.
Freddie Suhler and his senior teammates have had the same goal since the end of last season: Do whatever it takes to get the Rochester Lourdes boys soccer team back to a state tournament.
Through injuries, an up-and-down regular season in which the Eagles never won consecutive matches, and through three tight Section One, Class A playoff games, Lourdes' goal was the same: Just get to the next match.
And thanks to a small, but vital senior class, the Eagles get to keep playing soccer for at least another week.
They get to go to the Class A state tournament.
"Just playing more soccer," Suhler, Lourdes’ senior goalkeeper, said when asked what he’s most looking forward to about qualifying for state.
That’s all the Lourdes seniors have wanted to do all season — just play soccer.
Suhler stopped every shot that came his way. Senior Trent Neff scored the game-winning goal. Seniors McKaid Schotzko and Jonah Morris led a dominant defensive effort. Senior Conor Kane created havoc and multiple scoring chances in front of the opposing goal all night.
It all added up to a 2-0 Lourdes victory against Dover-Eyota in the Section One, Class A championship match at Rochester Regional Stadium on Tuesday.
“It's amazing," said Suhler, who played soccer as a seventh- and eighth-grader, then took three years off before re-joining the team this fall. "I haven't been with the program for all my years at Lourdes, but ... you hear about the history of this program all the time. It's amazing to be part of getting it back on track."
For the first time in their careers, Lourdes’ seniors get to go to a state tournament. For the first time since 2015, Lourdes’ program gets to go to a state tournament. Though it’s been just six years since Lourdes last went to state — one year longer than Dover-Eyota’s program has existed — at times it has felt much longer to head coach Sean Kane and his father, Tom, who was Lourdes’ head coach for the program’s first 24 years, until retiring after last season.
“All the tough teams we'll play (at state), we're looking forward to the challenge," said Neff, whose goal with 2:06 to play in the first half Tuesday held up as the game winner. "We don't know who we play next, but we're looking forward to the challenge and the effort we need to have. It should be fun competition."
Eagles head coach Sean Kane, who took over that role on a full-time basis this year after his dad, Tom, retired from coaching. Tom Kane started the Lourdes program nearly 25 years ago and he led the Eagles to 14 state tournament appearances. Next week, his son will guide the Eagles into their 15th state appearance.
"The seniors, I mean, it's amazing," Sean Kane said. "Trent has been a five-year starter. Jonah is the third Morris boy to come through the program. The fact that those two and Conor, as the three captains, were able to bring us back (to state) is special.
"We'd struggled with that the last couple of years, having guys who take over a game. To see what Trent did, injured, tonight and to see what Jonah and Conor did up top ... those three brought us here this year."
The Eagles (9-8-2 overall) also received strong contributions from some underclassmen on Tuesday, namely freshman defender Tyzion Morris and freshman Sam Theobald, who scored an insurance goal with just more than five minutes to play in the second half.
"I think a lot of our defensive effort starts with Sam in the midfield," Sean Kane said. "He's other worldly right now. He's playing so well, so aggressive. He shuts down everything in the middle. When you can do that, all you have to worry about in the back is long balls and balls in the air, which McKaid and Tyzion can handle. But for Tyzion top step in as a freshman — he got called on so many times, and (John) Novak on the left side is a sophomore, a younger brother of a former player — those guys stepped up so big."
Tuesday was a moment that the Eagles' seniors sometimes wondered if it would ever arrive. The state tournament was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, but the Eagles were upset by Caledonia in the first round of the section tournament anyway. The three years prior to that, Lourdes had reached the Section 1A final, only to fall by a goal each time to powerhouse Austin.
This year, with the MSHSL adding a third class in soccer, Austin moved up to Class AA.
Still, the memories of those title matchups against the Packers have stuck with the elder statesmen on the Lourdes team.
"You get into games like this and you know what you're made of," Sean Kane said. "You know there's another level you have to get to."
Dover-Eyota a quick contender
On the other side of the field, Dover-Eyota was playing in a section championship match for the second consecutive year and for the second time in the very brief five-year existence of its program.
It's been a quick ascension for the Eagles, who have never finished a season below .500. They finished this season 12-5-2 overall and have put together a 39-9-3 record over the past three seasons. That includes a penalty-kick loss to Austin in last year's section final after playing the Packers to a 1-1 draw.
The Eagles' four seniors — Grady Eaton, Brady Todd, Will Pike and Mathew Speltz — have been key building blocks for the program.
"We started soccer just five years ago, which is pretty cool for having been section runner-up twice here (the past two years)," D-E coach John Pittenger said. "These (seniors) were my first kids in the program. They've been with us the whole time. They're just good people, fantastic people. They're just great guys who've given us a good deal."
Pittenger said the Eagles' success in a short time has trickled down to younger athletes in the community, too.
"I think it helps a lot for kids to see that winning has become a culture with both the boys and girls programs," he said. "... It's just become an expectation that we'll win and that makes it easy to convince kids to play soccer."