U-High soccer teams family at the core _lowres

Advocate staff photo by John Oubre -- University High's boys soccer coach Chris Mitchell.

The University High soccer program is headed up by a rare brother and sister coaching tandem. This year the Cubs have a chance for another uncommon double after their boys and girls teams advanced to the Division III state semifinals.

The U-High boys, coached by Chris Mitchell, have been a mainstay near the top of Division III soccer in recent years. The last time they didn’t advance as far as the state quarterfinals was 2008.

Mitchell’s sibling, Melissa Ramsey, coaches the U-High girls, who had a string of four straight quarterfinal or better appearances broken last season. An upset loss in the second round to Northlake Christian bounced them out of the playoffs early, but it also provided incentive for this season.

“This year we’re better prepared for the playoffs,” junior forward Jessica Shelby said of the girls’ squad. “Last year we may have been too confident. Last year opened our eyes to what the playoffs are.

“I feel like we try really hard to set the pace of the game. It’s not one person running the show. We all work together.”

Both squads have run off three straight wins in the playoffs. From there, it would take a total of four wins against the state’s best competition to run the table for two titles. For now, that possibility is taken a step at a time.

The action begins Friday when the second-seeded U-High girls (21-1-3) host No. 3 Academy of Sacred Heart (14-4-4) at 5 p.m. The U-High boys (26-1-2), also seeded second, play host to No. 3 Northlake Christian (19-1-8) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Shelby said the girls squad lost just one starter from a year ago, and has matured into a better team. Her 30 goals leads the team, but she credits team captains Alyssa Strupp, Ellen Bottcher and Hannah Hyman for the improved teamwork.

The girls team also had an advantage unavailable to the boys. Ramsey brought in Lauren Reid, a member of U-High’s 1998 state championship team, to speak to the girls.

“(Reid) told us about her experiences, and how wonderful it was,” Shelby said. “I think that really helped motivate the team.”

The boys program advanced to the state finals in 2009 and 2010 losing to Newman each time 2-1. The boys program has yet to win a title, but it has maintained championship caliber play ever since.

This year’s squad is led by senior forward Thomas Kobetz’s 33 goals. For Kobetz, the most important thing is this year’s team has played better than the previous two.

“Out of my three years, I would say this year’s team is the best,” Kobetz said. “We’ve only lost one game, and we’ve won more games in a season than any other U-High team. I think this is one of U-High’s best teams.”

One of three captains, Kobetz has embraced his role. Adversity can arise at anytime but keeping the team on an even keel is vital to being a captain.

“A lot of guys on the team don’t play club ball. They just play high school,” Kobetz said. “They are gifted athletes, but soccer is something they picked up at school.”

Kobetz said the nuances of the game learned at all levels are passed on to these players.

“What you learn in club soccer is with any big game you should stay calm,” Kobetz said. “Never worry too much about situations, and just be positive. Its little things like that.”

The little things will be important in both semifinals as each team faces an opponent it played during the regular season. The importance of that prior game experience is downplayed by Shelby.

“It’s always nice to have information about your opponent, but they could change anything,” Shelby said. “They probably think the same of us. We could change anything to throw off what they saw last time.”

Staying on course will be important for the U-High boys and girls squads as they continue their quest for dual state titles.