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They started the season with a disappointing record of 3-5, but no one gave up hope. Beginning at about the midway mark of the schedule, the Fenwick boys soccer team went 11-1-1, and ended the season with a goal-net full of accolades.
The Friars closed out their stellar season last week with a grueling 2-1 double overtime loss to Sandburg in the Class 3A Lisle Supersectional Championship at Benedictine University. The team had already secured the school's first-ever Class 3A Sectional title in soccer, and the first Chicago Catholic League title in more than a decade. It was also the school's first back-to-back Sweet 16 appearance. But was it expected?
Head coach Robert Watson said he saw this season coming four years ago.
"The coaches knew this was a special group from the moment they came in as freshman," said Watson, whose team last year made it as far as the Class 2A sectional championship where they lost to eventual state champ Mather. "We even had high expectations going into this season, but I'm not sure anyone else did outside of Fenwick."
The success was steered by seniors Jack Alberts, Mike Nowicki and goalkeeper Jacob Peterson. Alberts, a four-year starter for the Friars, has committed to Marquette. He earned the Catholic League's Lawless Award this season and was named First-team All-state.
"I can't say enough about Jack," said Watson. "He's a playmaker and as consistent as they come. He's certainly been the poster child for Fenwick soccer."
Nowicki, who scored Fenwick's lone goal in the loss to Sandburg, was a dominant scoring threat all season. Peterson racked up 12 shutouts during the season and averaged 20 saves per game in the playoffs. He finished with seven saves against Sandburg.
"All our kids just played their hearts out and came together and played tough. Getting them to buy into the philosophy and click together took some time, but once it happened it was off to the races."
The Friars finished 16-7-1 overall and 5-1 in the Catholic League, sharing the league title with St. Ignatius, who they defeated 3-1 earlier in the season.
The downside to Fenwick's success is that this year's team was made up mostly of seniors. In fact, 90 percent of the starting lineup will graduate, but Watson, who just wrapped up his seventh season as head coach of the boys team, said he's hopeful for the future of the program.
"We have a group of juniors who played significant minutes this season that will need to step up next year," he said. "We'll certainly need to reload and rebuild, but there's also another young and talented group coming up the ranks that will help us remain competitive."