Southwestern soccer has been on a mission all season.
The Spartans came within mere seconds of going to overtime in the 2020 regional championship match at Knightstown. Lutheran scored inside 20 seconds left in regulation for a stunning 3-2 victory that left the Spartans reeling.
Thursday night, Class A, No. 14 Southwestern (10-4-2) will take on No. 17 Providence Cristo Rey (12-1) in one regional semifinal game with a return trip to Knightstown for the regional championship match at stake.
“We’ve talked about this all year,” said Southwestern head coach Taylor Meredith. “We didn’t want to overlook the sectional but we wanted to get back to the regional and win the regional because we hated how it ended last year.”
Lutheran, ranked No. 13 in the final state coaches poll, was on the Spartans’ radar all season. The Saints and Spartans even played to a 0-0 draw on Sept. 16. But Providence Cristo Rey captured its first ever sectional title with penalty-kick wins over Lutheran and Covenant Christian.
“The guys were definitely surprised,” said Meredith. “They followed that Lutheran game fairly closely.”
That does not mean Providence Cristo Rey is an unknown entity to Meredith. The Wolves’ lone loss this season came at Tech, 4-0 on Sept. 22. The Titans finished their season 17-3-2. And Providence Cristo Rey has wins this season over Mid-Hoosier Conference foes Hauser (6-2) and Morristown (4-2) as well as Crispus Attucks (3-2), who handed Southwestern its first loss of the season on Sept. 2.
“I’ve seen a little bit of film,” said Meredith. “They have a really good goal scorer in Bryan Jara. He is good up front. Kevin Cervantes is really good in the midfield. They are solid all the way around.”
Jara has scored 22 of the Wolves’ 48 goals this season. He also has four assists. Cervantes follows with eight goals and seven assists. Luis Rodriguez has seven goals and three assists.
Southwestern counters with Aiden Hartsell, who has scored a program-record 44 goals this season. The senior is the career leader in goals in a season and career, assists in a season and career, and goals scored in a game.
“Everyone knows going in who the goal scorers are,” laughed Meredith. “It will be who steps up and scores.”
Southwestern will have veteran goalkeeper Eli Fix leading the defensive game plan.
“Fix has been phenomenal,” said Meredith of his junior goalkeeper who posted 4-0 and 2-0 wins in the sectional semifinal and championship games, respectively. “That was huge. He has really stepped up this year.”
Meredith will rely on juniors Conner Jewell and Gavin Shaw to keep the front of the net clean for Fix.
“We depend on those guys a lot,” said Meredith.
Providence Cristo Rey will likely have freshman Aaron Najera in goal. He has a 1.2 goals against average this season.
Providence Cristo Rey is the host for the regional semifinal but does not have a dedicated soccer facility on its campus. Thursday’s semifinal will be played at Bishop Chatard High School, 5885 N. Crittenden Ave., in Indianapolis at 6 p.m. Admission is $8.
The regional championship game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Knightstown High School. The Southwestern-Providence Cristo Rey winner will face either Centerville (7-5-3) or No. 18 Cascade (11-5-1) with a semistate berth on the line.
“We looked at Cascade all year like they could be there,” said Meredith. “They have been a pretty solid team and we thought they might be the favorite to win their sectional.”