University of Chicago has been on the doorstep of a national title before, but with their fourth NCAA Division IIII semifinal appearance in five tries they are looking to write a new chapter on Thursday.
Two of the players the Maroons will be counting on to help them get over the hump this year grew up a few miles from each other in Delaware County and played high school soccer together at Haverford School.
Senior defender Griffin Wada and junior goalkeeper Will Boyes — both all-conference first-team performers — have been mainstays for the team this season. Boyes has played all 21 games, pitched shutouts in 11 of them and has a 0.52 goals against average while Wada has played in all but one game helping to lock down a back line that has been among the stingiest in the nation.
“Games can get stressful and sometimes the pressure can get to you but going through this journey with Griff has been a blast,” said Boyes, a Radnor native. “We’re both light-hearted and pretty easygoing guys so playing with a friend just takes some of that stress off and it’s been a fun and great journey so far.”
Wada grew up in Villanova but playing different age groups in club the two didn’t really meet until Wada’s sophomore year of high school. Wada played for Lower Merion SC and Boyes for Penn Fusion on the club side.
“We only played against each other once that I remember,” Wada said. “It was a friendly but we did PKs and Will walked over to the keeper who was in at the time to tell him where I was going to go and of course I went there and he saved it.”
Wada wasn’t even aware that Boyes was considering Chicago until he saw him on campus on a recruiting visit the first day of Wada’s freshman year but since his arrival they each have had an ally in sharing their Philly pride, not always to the liking of their teammates.
“Representing Philly is really cool,” Boyes said. “I think it kind of flies under the radar in terms of a soccer city so it’s nice to help put it on the map a little. I know the Union is doing great things with their academy and everything but it’s nice to show that’s there’s a lot of other talent from our area too.”
Union Academy grad Isaiah Holquist, who went to Lower Merion High School, played at Chicago from 2017-2020 and was part of back-to-back semifinal runs his first two seasons. The success of those teams serves as motivation for Boyes and Wada, who have experienced both the joy and the agony of a deep postseason run.
“It feels like a natural continuation of last year, just picking up where we left off,” Boyes said. “We’ve had a lot of magic moments this year, goals in the last couple minutes, clutch defensive blocks and saves at the end of games and just special moments like that. We just have more experience and find different ways to win.”
For Wada, Thursday’s semifinal and hopefully Saturday’s final in Salem, Virginia, will be a chance for him to achieve something rare: winning a title in his last game.
“It’s a weird feeling because I’ve been playing I don’t know 15-16 years now,” Wada said. “To know it’s going to be done is tough but I’ve also played each of these games throughout the tournament thinking this could be my last game so I’m just happy to be here and to still be playing.”
Chicago advanced to the semifinal two Sundays ago with a 1-0 win over No. 5 Gustavus Adolphus so there’s been a lot of time to rest but also spend the Thanksgiving holiday back home in Pennsylvania with family and friends.
“It feels almost like I’m a minor celebrity talking to people,” Boyes said. “I have family I haven’t heard from in a while texting me and I’ve been hearing from a lot of friends. It’s been fun but coming back we’ve just had to stay switched on and focused on the task at hand.”
That task won’t be an easy one — and it might end up resting in part on Boyes’ shoulders in a penalty shootout — but that’s what always makes the final weekend of the season so special.