By Mark Jurgena
NOTE: While we wait for high school athletics to return, we have decided to take January and quiz some long time Triad coaches on their favorite memories at THS. During the spring, we interviewed Triad wrestling coach Russ Witzig and baseball coach Jesse Bugger about their biggest games. We are starting with Matt Bettlach, a long time coach in various capacities for both girls and boys soccer at Triad.
Yes, it really has been a decade.
On June 4, 2011, the Triad girls soccer team won that elusive state championship 2-1 over Woodstock (Marian). The Knights outscored the Hurricanes 4-1 during penalty kicks to win their first IHSA Class 2A state title.
“It was a big moment for small-town Troy,” current Triad coach and 2011 assistant Matt Bettlach said recently. “Getting that recognition and going up to Chicago and playing with the big dogs. It was definitely neat of our high school to come away with something of that magnitude.”
The championship game itself took, in a word, forever. In addition to four overtimes, there was an 84-minute lightning/rain delay according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the day after the game.
“So the girls had played 80 minutes then we had gotten into overtime and boom…here comes the lightning delay,” Bettlach said. “It’s hot, you’re playing on turf and you get those breaks and you’re thinking how to keep those kids fresh. We go inside, we’re inside the air conditioning, it’s nice and cool and no one wants to go back out in the heat. But obviously, it’s for a state championship, there’s a motivation there. But it seemed like it took forever.”
The weather delay occurred with 5:46 left in the 2nd overtime according to the Northwest Herald but once the teams returned to the pitch the game needed penalty kicks to decide the winner.
Bettlach recounted the events surrounding that shootout like it was yesterday.
“We won the toss and we took the first kick,” he said. “They didn’t put their normal goalie in. They put in a field player. At that time, when the referee blew the whistle the goalie could approach the kicker. She basically could just run out and that’s what they did.”
As many fans will remember, Triad had the perfect remedy for that situation. That solution currently sits just outside the top twenty all-time in IHSA history for goals scored and had already netted Triad’s only goal in regulation time of the title game.
“We had Rachel Tejada, all-American, all-stater for us, she just calmly tucks it in the corner. So that set the standard.
“We told the girls that they have a field player in there and if she comes at you just tuck it low in a corner, you don’t have to do anything fancy with it. I don’t think we missed.”
Bettlach’s memory was again spot-on. In addition to Tejada, Danielle Mertzke, Madalyn VanPelt, and finally Alyssa Patterson all connected with their shots to give the Knights a perfect 4-for-4 in PKs and the state title.
However, Bettlach gave credit for their state title success to more than just those battling through the overtimes.
“The girls on the bench, they were all standing up, were all helping and were cheering, trying to give that extra energy to the girls on the field and I think that’s what we did. It’s kind of what helped us along,” he said.
During the post-game celebration, Bettlach had a learning experience he certainly wasn’t expecting from his head coach, the legendary Hall of Famer Mike Villa.
“He’s just calmly walking over to the other coach to shake their hand and I’m running to him, jumping up and down on him and I can just remember saying, “Hey, congratulations!” said Bettlach. “He just turns around and goes to talk to the other coach. For me, that was a big lesson as a coach. When you’re young, you like to yell and jump up and do all these things. When I saw him and how calm he was, that kind of changed me as a coach forever.
“Yeah we won a championship, but he still had this respect to just walk over and shake this other coach’s hand first before we celebrated. After we shook the other coach’s hand, we hugged it out, we had a big hug and congratulations.”
Of course, this may have been Villa’s first state title at Triad, but he won seven as the boys soccer coach at Kirwood, Mo. (Vianney) including the USA Today National title in 1992.
Bettlach had played for Villa at Vianney but was not on one of those state championship squads. Once Villa stepped away from Triad, Bettlach took over as the head coach and would go on to lead them to the 2017 Class 2A state title.
During Bettlach’s approximately 20 years on the sidelines at THS, the Knights have garnered 13 regional titles, four sectional crowns, and four trophies at state, However time has allowed him to develop a new perspective on the game.
“What I love about coaching now is when kids come back and they talk about games or winning a state championship,” he began. “When I see girls from 10-15 years ago…I’ve been at Triad since 2003, my first year there we took 2nd place. I still get a chance to see those girls or they give you a shout out on Facebook and it’s, ‘hey remember when we won or we got the ring?’ As a coach that’s what we live for.”