Blake Van Bruggen’s senior year at Andrew is turning out to be more memorable than he possibly could have imagined a few weeks ago.
On Oct. 3, after a loss to Lincoln-Way West, the Thunderbolts were 4-7-2 overall and 0-2 in the SouthWest Suburban Red, seemingly a major long shot to go anywhere in the postseason.
Yet Saturday, Van Bruggen and his teammates were on the field at Eisenhower celebrating the program’s first regional title since 2008 after a 4-1 win over Lincoln-Way East — Andrew’s sixth victory in seven games since that loss to West.
“Come late in the season, we started picking it up,” Van Bruggen said. “We were in good form. Now I can see it happening. We started thinking ‘We can do this. We can go far.’
“This means a lot to us. I’ve been a part of this program for four years and it means a lot to finally win some hardware.”
Van Bruggen said that, as a senior leader, he felt a responsibility to help turn the season around. It started with the simple mission of bringing the T-bolts together.
“A few weeks ago, we were playing individually,” he said. “We’re playing more as a team now. We’ve got some chemistry going now and we’re playing a lot better.
“When we hit the rough patch in the middle of the season, I just tried to keep the guys positive and get them to come together as a team.”
Van Bruggen scored in both games in regional play as the T-bolts, seeded 11th in the Class 3A Sandburg Sectional, advanced to the sectional’s final four.
He was up to seven goals and six assists on the season entering Tuesday, but his impact on the team’s rise goes beyond stats, evidenced by his earning All-State honors from the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association.
“He’s really deserving of being All-State,” Andrew coach Pat MacDonald said. “He’s a great player and a great kid. He’s been a big part of our success.”
Van Bruggen, who plays club ball for the Chicago Fire Academy and hopes to continue playing in college, said he’s been a soccer player as long as he can remember.
“I took my first steps and kicked a soccer ball, my mom claims,” he said. “I love the sport. I just love how you never know what’s going to happen. The whole game can change in 30 seconds.”
Van Bruggen hopes the postseason run will continue for Andrew. Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, though, he has his regional title.
“It’s a reward for our hard work,” he said. “I’m proud to give it our coaches, too. They’ve stuck with us through the hard times and the good ones these last four years. I give a lot of credit to them.
“These playoffs are my last here and each game is do or die. It could be my last game in this jersey. It’s just like, ‘Play your heart out and leave it all on the field.’ ”