WATERLOO — The Gibault boys soccer team took the first steps during its opening practice Monday morning toward a daunting challenge it faces this season.
Despite its enrollment of 221 students, Gibault has been placed by the Illinois High School Association in Class 3A for boys soccer — the largest of three IHSA boys soccer classifications.
The Hawks were classified in 3A for the next two seasons because of the IHSA success factor, which is applied to "non-boundaried" schools based on a program's recent postseason history.
Gibault no doubt has had plenty of success in boys soccer and is seeking a state tournament appearance for the fourth consecutive season. But this season it will be facing opponents in the playoffs with enrollments at minimum of greater than 1,635.
“The move to 3A is going to be indeed a big challenge for our team and we have to make changes to adapt to the skill level,” Hawks senior defender Alex Bira said. “It is a huge accomplishment for our school to compete at a 3A level in soccer and the competition will keep getting harder with many new players filling in the gaps, but I believe my team is ready. Competing (in Class 3A) will be no easy task, but we are definitely determined and ready for this new season.”
Gibault was bumped up to Class 2A the last two seasons by the success factor, finishing fourth last season and as the state runner-up in 2017. The Hawks won the Class 1A state title in 2013 and were fourth in 1A in 2016.
Senior goalkeeper Connor Olson said the move up is something of a double-edged sword. Sure, winning has put the Hawks in position to take on the big boys of the state, some with enrollments more than 10 times larger than Gibault's. It has happened, though, thanks to plenty of the players who no longer are with the program.
“For me, it really isn't fair,” Olson said. “We're a school of 230 kids, or so, and not just boys. From that aspect, it is a very big compliment and I can speak for the rest of the team that it is a very proud moment. However, I think something else needs to be taken into consideration because most of our success, the past three state runs, came from the older groups, mostly seniors, on those teams. Also graduating seven starters, with three going to play college soccer, and not having a bunch of depth hurts. It hurts a lot.”
Gibault coach Darryn Haudrich said he feels the Hawks will be prepared for the challenge, which isn't unusual.
The Hawks posted a 12-4-5 record in the regular season one year ago, playing each of the area's 3A schools. They finished 17-6-5, falling in penalty kicks in both the Class 2A semifinals and third-place game.
Haudrich said tough scheduling has been a fixture for Gibault since the days of former coach Jim Corsi, who led the program to Class 1A state titles from 2005-07, and continued with Matt Reeb, who guided the program to the 2013 Class 1A title.
“It is still our focus to go out and play every day, no matter who we play,” Haudrich said. “As we go from regular season to postseason, there is a pretty even transition.”
IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha said the situation faced by Gibault is one that has few parallels, and none in boys soccer.
Troha said the Rockford Lutheran boys basketball team (2015-16 and 2016-17) and the Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball team (2015-16) are the only other programs with the lowest enrollment numbers for their sport to have to play in the highest classification due to the success factor, which was enacted in 2015.
“The classification of non-boundaried high schools within the IHSA has been and remains a topic of thoughtful conversation and deliberation,” Troha said. “The IHSA rules as they relate to the non-boundaried school multiplier and non-boundaried success adjustment formula have both been developed, studied, and tweaked since their inception.
"Because it is an important topic to our membership, we will continue to be receptive to ideas on how to best classify our schools from a competitive aspect.”
Gibault is one of only two boys soccer programs affected by the success factor for the next two seasons, along with Elgin St. Edward in Class 2A. In eight fall sports offered by the IHSA, nine programs were bumped up to a higher classification.
For boundaried public schools, Class 1A soccer is for schools up to an enrollment of 697, while the 2A ranks consist of schools greater than 697 to 1,635.
The schools in last year's Class 3A state tournament — including third-place finisher Collinsville — had an average enrollment of 2,270.
It's a challenge the Hawks seem ready to accept.
“It's a huge motivator and is something that should push the team,” Olson said. “(That's) because even winning one regional game is something that (might not) happen again in school history at the 3A level.”