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Class A state preview story: University (Normal)

By Curt Herron, 11/01/23, 9:15PM CDT


Since the IHSA introduced two or more classes in 1997, four coaches and six programs have won multiple titles in the smallest class.

University (Normal) and its longtime coach Jeremy Stanton hopes to join that elite group this weekend. This is the team’s first Final Four since winning the Class A championship in 2016.

Sacred Heart-Griffin's Sam Tate (1998, 2002), Benet's Henry Wind (2000, 2001), Gibault's Jim Corsi (2005-07) and Greg Reis (2011, 2018, 2022) of Notre Dame (Quincy) all led their teams to multiple titles.

Gibault also won a title in 2013 for Matt Reeb. Timothy took first in 2009 under Rudi Gesch and in 2015 under Stephen Fernandes. Marquette (Alton) finished first in 2012 for Jeremy Sanfilippo and delivered again in 2017 for Joe Burchett. 

Columbia, which meets the 20-5-2 Pioneers in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hoffman Estates High School, won Class A in 2014 under Jason Mathenia and also seeks its second small-school crown.

Stanton, who is 251-123-36 in 17 years at the school on the Illinois State University campus, led a 17-6-5 team to top honors in 2016 after they beat Gibault 1-0 in the semifinals and St. Joseph 3-1 for the title. Stanton's assistants are J.D. Kelley, Lukas Manieri and Ryan Ash.

This is the Pioneers' fifth state appearance, and they will take home their third trophy. Twin Cities coaching legend and ISU professor Dr. Bodo Fritzen took University (Normal) to Class A state finals in 1996, 1998 and 2001. The school claimed third place in 1998 after losing 1-0 to eventual champion Sacred Heart-Griffin in the semifinals.

The Pioneers head into the finals on a roll with wins in 11 of their last 12 matches. The lone defeat came by a 2-0 score to Class AA semifinalist Notre Dame (Peoria) in their regular-season finale Oct. 7.  They've outscored their opponents by a 35-7 margin during that stretch and have posted seven shutouts, including three in a row.

After allowing 11 goals in losses to Glenwood and Centennial to open the season, University (Normal) has yielded just 17 goals in its last 25 matches and has recorded 15 shutouts this season. It has allowed just one goal five other times.

The Pioneers earned their spot in the finals after capturing a 3-0 victory over their host in the Herscher Supersectional. Senior midfielder Brady Plattner scored an early goal. Junior defender Noah Molitor connected following an assist from junior midfielder Owen Pacetti, and then senior forward Vinnie Moreland got the final goal.

After winning its own regional 3-1 over Fisher, University (Normal) defeated Hoopeston Area 5-0 before a 4-0 decision over Bloomington Central in the St. Anne Sectional championship. That avenged a loss to their longtime rivals in last year's sectional finals.


Leading the Pioneers offensively are senior midfielder Cooper Stengel (17 goals, 3 assists), Moreland (14 goals, 3 assists), Pacetti (10 goals, 13 assists), Molitor (10 goals, 1 assist), Plattner (7 goals, 2 assists), senior midfielder J.T. Kelley (3 goals, 5 assists), sophomore forward Ethan Lavazza (3 goals), senior midfielder Zeke Mendez (3 goals), senior midfielder Thanapat Missakasavake (3 goals), junior midfielder Aidan Dozier (2 goals, 5 assists) and junior midfielder Keaton Ash (2 goals, 4 assists).

Earning IHSSCA all-section honors were junior goalkeeper Noah Grieshaber as well as Pacetti, Plattner and Stengel. Senior goalie Ezra Mendez earned the all-section sportsmanship award. Missakasavake was chosen for the all-section academic team.