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Notre Dame repeats as Class 2 champions
Willen's two early goals pave way for school's third state soccer title.
State champions -- again.
Notre Dame midfielder Ryan Willen debated over whether to return to the Bulldogs after winning a Class 2 title with the team last fall. He was considering focusing primarily on his basketball career.
But Willen did return with the idea in mind of winning another state championship.
And he played a big role in earning Notre Dame back-to-back crowns by netting two goals and adding an assist in a 4-1 Bulldogs victory over Smithville in the Class 2 title game Saturday afternoon at the Anheuser-Busch Center in Fenton.
Willen said the second one feels just as sweet as the first.
"You can't compare them [the two titles} because it[']s just two different teams, and last year it seemed like our two state games were a lot closer and there was more emotion after the game," Willen said. "But it still feels just as good."
"It's perfect," he added.
Willen's first goal came just 22 seconds into the contest on a pass from midfielder John Unterreiner. It gave Notre Dame a 1-0 advantage.
"John Unterreiner just beat his guy down the line, got to the touch line and hit a beautiful ball across, and it just landed right on my foot and I put my laces on it and it found the back of the net," Willen said. "I think as soon as that first goal went in we really calmed down a lot. It got a lot of the nerves out and made us play a lot better as a team."
Willen made it 2-0 just about 13 minutes later when he received a line-drive pass on a free kick by sweeper Mark Himmelberg.
The 6-foot-8 Willen just jumped up and headed it past Smithville goalie Luke Scheidecker.
"When we had our first free kick down there and he [Willen] was isolated one-on-one with a kid who was about 5 foot 6, I knew it was going to be a good day," Notre Dame coach Brad Wittenborn said, chuckling.
Willen then created some more offense about seven minutes later when he assisted on a goal scored by junior Brock Dirnberger.
That goal allowed the Bulldogs to head into halftime with a secure 3-0 lead for the second straight game. Notre Dame also jumped on Duchesne in its semifinal game Friday, scoring three times in the first 24 minutes and 59 seconds.
Smithville coach Jon Reed said Notre Dame was one of the strongest and fastest teams his Warriors have played this year. He added that his players were nervous and that caused them to fall behind early.
"Experience means a lot," he said. "You could see in the first 30 minutes, we were nervous and they were relaxed. They were not nervous at all, and that's what experience will do for you."
Forward Ty Williams said it was important to score right away and for Willen to play well in the final soccer game of his career.
"Ryan went out there, gave us a lead, and that was exactly what we needed," Williams said. "He was the man today.
"I think it was pretty special," Williams added. "I know he [Willen] is going to be good in basketball in college. And I think it is pretty special for him to go out on top [in soccer] the way he did."
Wittenborn added about Willen: "We haven't been outplayed in the midfield all season. He's awesome, and I don't know how you replace what he does. We went to the college final last year and every team had one of those 6-foot-6 type players out there -- and in high school, to have that presence in the box is amazing.
"He makes a lot of things happen, and not just because of his size but because he's a very good soccer player," Wittenborn added. "You don't see 6-8 guys with his coordination."
Williams made the score 4-0 with an unassisted goal at 59:32.
Drew Sperry netted Smithville's lone goal late in the game when Bulldogs backup goalkeeper Austin Westrich was in net.
Notre Dame starting goalie Ryan Bass played 66 minutes and was not required to make a save.
The Bulldogs defense allowed the Warriors only three shots all game. Notre Dame had 15 shots.
"Anything that was borderline, 18 (yards) or out, we just cleared it away," Bass said. "It really kept my day easy."
As for Willen, who began playing soccer in kindergarten, he finished his senior season with 12 goals and eight assists. Those offensive statistics were down from last year when he recorded 21 goals and eight assists.
"I don't know about the goal scoring, but Ry-Guy has controlled the pace of the games outstandingly all year," Bass said.
Willen, who has already committed verbally to play basketball at Lafayette University next year, will begin focusing on his basketball career, which might start with a practice today.
"I've been playing with these guys for four years," Willen said. "It is sad to end."