NORMAL – Genoa-Kingston senior Will Crozier fought back tears as he walked on the sideline, holding the soccer team's first-ever IHSA state trophy.
Following a 6-0 loss to F.W. Parker in the third-place game at the Corn Crib in Normal Saturday, Crozier wasn't necessarily emotional about the weekend's results – back-to-back defeats in the state finals – but the end of a memorable season that lasted longer than many expected.
G-K wasn't supposed to defeat Stillman Valley in the sectional championship after the Cardinals beat them, 6-0, early in the season. The Cogs weren't favored to get past Somonauk in the super-sectional when the Bobcats dominated G-K, 7-1, earlier this year.
But they ended up in Normal, playing on the season's final weekend at the state finals for the first time in program history.
"In years we've had good chemistry before, but this year was probably the best chemistry I remember having since I was a freshman," Crozier said. "I love every single one of my teammates like a brother."
After each member of the Cogs received their medal, Crozier and fellow senior captain Uriel Ortega walked up to receive the trophy in front of their fan section. The ensuing ovation was loud, just as it's been all season long, a direct result of G-K's new "We Are One" initiative.
"Cheering actually helps," Crozier said. "All these schools out here have great fan sections and I think that's probably what propelled them, not only being good and fighting throughout the year … but having that student body to back you up."
It wasn't always that way at G-K. Ortega recalled the fan section being mostly comprised of parents over the past three years.
But this season was different. As G-K experienced unprecedented success in many of its fall sports, the student sections continued to show up.
It all culminated Friday night, when Ortega said G-K formed the most memorable support section of the season. Members of the football team, which had a road playoff game the following afternoon, even made the long road trip down to Normal.
"They're awesome, they're great. The 'We Are One' really brought everyone up," Ortega said. "For people to come two hours to come and support us, it really means a lot to us. It's really amazing what "We Are One" has done for us."
Which is why it was unfortunate to see both the football and soccer teams playing at the same time on Saturday in stadiums two hours apart. Because so many of the athletes had seen each other play all throughout the season, it seemed wrong that both teams' season ended without the other looking on.
Even G-K athletic director Phil Jerbi couldn't be in two places at once.
But over the last few months, it's evident a special bond has been formed at G-K, one that stretches beyond just one team's roster.
"The 'We Are One' thing really got to us," Ortega said. "It really brought us closer together as a community and as students. There's a lot of pride in our school."
And a lot of new sports hardware now as well.