MORRIS — In a perfect world, Morris boys soccer player Matt Samolis would have followed his lifelong friends Keagan Sobol and Michael Feeney to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Unfortunately, Whitewater doesn't have the type of soccer program that Samolis was looking for, so all he did was settle for one that has a championship tradition. Samolis will instead play at Loras College in Iowa. Loras was the national runner-up in Division III in 2015 and has a long tradition of being one of the top small-college programs in the country, having made the NCAA Division III Tournament for 11 straight years before just missing it this past fall. Included in those 11 appearances were five Final Fours.
"I was really looking at Whitewater, but it seems like Loras gives me a better chance to improve, both as a player and as a person," Samolis said. "I feel like Loras is a better fit for me, so that's where I decided to go."
It's the end of a long journey for Samolis, who moved to Morris about 10 years ago. Like most kids in town at that age, he wanted to play football. As it turned out, football was not the sport for him, and he gravitated to the soccer field instead.
But that didn't stop him from making and keeping friends on the football team. Many members of this fall's Redskin football team are Samolis' closest friends to this day, and several of them – seven, in fact – were in the stands, shirtless, with the letters of his name painted on their bare chests when the Morris soccer team held its Senior Night against Ottawa.
All Samolis did that day was take the field with a cast on his broken right hand and come out and score a hat trick (three goals) in leading the Redskins to a 4-1 win. For the season, Samolis finished with 13 goals and seven assists and was named honorable mention all-conference in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East.
In addition to his hat trick against Ottawa, he also scored on a direct kick from 40 yards out againt Reed-Custer in the regional semifinals.
"That was probably the best day of my life," Samolis said about Senior Night. "We had a tough year with some close losses in the conference, but we were able to come out and play well that day and get a win. For us to get a win on Senior Night and me getting a hat trick, that's something I will always remember."
Samolis also said he will remember the quality of coaching he got throughout his career, and that is a large part of the reason that he intends to major in education with a minor in sports management while at Loras.
"I would like to be a coach someday," he said. "I got such good coaching along the way in my career, I would like to give back to the youth programs and help some other kids the way I got helped."
His high school coach, David Valdivia, had nothing but positive words when describing Samolis, both as a player and a person.
"Matt is all heart," Valdivia said. "When my assistant coaches and I got together and talked about next year, we realized just how big a hole we are going to have to fill next year with him not there. He has made such an impact on our program. He came in as kind of a scrawny freshman that really had to fight to get any varsity playing time and he's leaving and going to play for one of the top Division III programs in the country.
"Whenever he has been given an opportunity, he has come through. I I think he will make a great coach, but I would also like to see him go as far as he can in college, both soccer and school. He is always surprising people, including himself, sometimes, I think. He just loves soccer and is just a fan of the game.
"I can definitely see him being a coach. He already has done a great job at our Redskin youth camps and helps out with the kids at the YMCA. No matter what he does, he'll be successful and I am looking forward to seeing him continue to grow."