CHAMPAIGN — While the Warrensburg-Latham soccer team was celebrating with its fans on the south end of the UI Intramural Fields after claiming a 2-0 win against Urbana University High on Tuesday in a Class 1A super-sectional, the louder celebration was happening a few yards north.
The Illineks came out on the losing end, but that didn't prevent their boisterous fans — including the majority of the school's student body — from feting them. There were a few tears, but more than anything the moments immediately following Tuesday's setback provided the chance to honor the first athletic program in school history to participate in a super-sectional.
"Having the people out that we did, it was incredible," Uni coach Phil Anders said. "It's been fabulous. These guys have nothing to hang their heads about. They made a school proud. They made a community proud."
Uni (22-2-0) gave its followers plenty to be proud of during a season in which it set a program record for victories while winning the school's first regional and sectional crowns. With lofty expectations entering the season, the fans were behind this team from the season opener against St. Joseph-Ogden to the closing seconds of Tuesday's loss.
"The fans were great, even when there were 30 seconds left in the game they were cheering us on, hoping just for one more goal," said junior George Voulgaris, who had 19 goals and 12 assists this season. "We tried, but we just couldn't get it. Their defense was really good."
The Illineks dominated possession in the first half but couldn't convert and failed to take advantage of having the wind — which was steady at about 25 mph — at their backs for the first 40 minutes.
Warrensburg-Latham (21-3-1) got the wind in the second half and cashed in almost immediately. Bryce Hawthorne scored off a corner kick two minutes into the half and assisted on Andrew Shore's goal nine minutes later.
"We missed some opportunities. We looked good in the first half. I think it definitely plays to their style of play," Anders said. "They move the ball up the field and chase after it."
Both of Uni's losses this season came against the Cardinals. Warrensburg-Latham defeated the Illineks 6-2 on Sept. 26. The Illineks trailed that match 3-2 with four minutes to play despite playing the second half with 10 players because of a red card. Uni's last three losses have come courtesy Warrensburg-Latham. The Cardinals defeated the Illineks 3-0 in last year's regional final.
"It's tough; it's not pleasant," Anders said of not being able to get past the Cardinals.
The future is bright for Anders' squad, however. Uni's top five goal scorers are all juniors and accounted for 91 of the team's 118 goals (77 percent). That group includes Patrick Wong (26 goals), Tarik Koric (25) and Alex Mestre (26 assists).
"These guys, they're a true team. There wasn't anybody that we relied on through the course of the season. It's been fabulous," Anders said. "We've got some exceptional players; we've got an exceptional team. There's a good future for Uni soccer, definitely."