Winning back-to-back championships in any sport is never an easy task. Mather will try to win the city and state soccer title without seven starters from last season.
Mather (21-3-1) beat Lane for the Public League championship. The Rangers won the Class 2A state title with a 6-0 win over Chatham Glenwood as Qudos Lawal scored four goals.
“I don’t know a lot about soccer,” Athletic Director Paul Swiatly said about last season. “I know a lot about athletes. There were a lot of kids coming back from the team that lost in the sectional. I thought they had a good chance to win state. I think that I was probably the only one in the building who thought we could win state. I personally think we could have won the (Class) 3A championship.”
There are changes on and off the field for Mather in the upcoming season. The Rangers will begin the season on Tuesday, August 28 at home against neighborhood-rival Von Steuben.
Mather enters the new school year with 12 returnees. Henry Rahana has been hired to coach the team after being fired by the school two years ago for using an ineligible player.
Rahana replaces Branko Cvijovic who decided to retire after guiding the Rangers to the city and state soccer crown.
Swiatly claims that Cvijovic wasn’t interested in coaching the team for a long period of time. Cvijovic was unavailable for comment.
“Obviously, I am disappointed,” Swiatly admitted. “It’s something we knew that could possibly happen. He had let us know that before taking the job. We just move on.”
Mather will move on with re-hiring Rahana.
“We made the decision collectively as a staff to give him another chance,” Swiatly said.
“I’m very happy the administration is giving me another chance,” Rahana stated. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I started as a freshman coach. I did a lot of hard work. A mistake happened. I felt bad about it.”
Most observers might tell you that there is a tremendous culture of cheating in the Public League especially in soccer and basketball. Maybe Mather should be given credit for punishing Rahana, which rarely happens in the Public League.
Three players from Simeon including Bulls’ superstar Derrick Rose had their grades changed in an effort to remain eligible in 2007 so the school could win the state basketball championship. No punishment or sanction was issued to Simeon.
Rahana, who was born in Iraq, played soccer at Roosevelt before attending Northeastern and Concordia where he received a bachelors and masters degree. Rahana teaches math at Mather.
“This year is going to be a rebuilding year,” Rahana admitted. “We will try to compete in CPS and our league. We have a lot of new players. We have the numbers. We just don’t have the talent we had last year.”
“They will be okay,” Swiatly said. “We have always been respectable in soccer. I don’t see that changing. Time will tell how we do this season. We’ll see how the young players do.”
Replacing Lawal might be the team’s biggest challenge.
“He’s a special kid,” Swiatly said. “He’s a special athlete.”
Rahana watched Mather win city and state last season before being reinstated.
“It was hard to watch,” Rahana admitted. “You build a successful soccer program and someone else wins with the team. Everybody is aiming to win city and state. I was happy to see them win because I coached them for four years. I was there to cheer them on. Branko was my friend and I did encourage him to take the job(at Mather).”
Rahana has been impressed with some of the younger players in preseason practice. Rahana admitted that he will focus more on defense in the upcoming season.
Like it or not, Mather will have a target on its back after winning city and state. They have an experienced coach, which will help this squad.