Casey DeCaluwe created a map toward success that led to a historic season for Richmond-Burton after it fell in the supersectional round in 2021.
DeCaluwe scheduled the Rockets to play on turf since many postseason hosts’ fields are turf and had his team compete in the Round Lake Tournament so his players learned what it took to advance in a tournament. He also scheduled opponents in higher classes so the Rockets saw different styles of play.
R-B advanced throughout the season and achieved each of its goals, winning the Round Lake Tournament and the Kishwaukee River Conference title for the second consecutive season with an undefeated conference record. The team’s lone regular-season loss came to Class 3A Neuqua Valley.
All of that prepared the Rockets for the postseason, where they advanced to their first-ever state finals tournament, falling in the final minutes to Quincy Notre Dame in the Class 1A state-title match. Despite all the pressure, DeCaluwe led the Rockets to their full potential.
For his team’s success, DeCaluwe is the Northwest Herald Girls Soccer Coach of the Year for the second straight season, selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches. Crystal Lake Central’s Sarah Fack was also considered.
Sports reporter Michal Dwojak caught up with DeCaluwe, who talked about what this past season was like, what he’ll remember the most and who made him laugh the most.
What were you most proud of this past season?
DeCaluwe: I think I was most proud of the girls coming back from an upset the year before where they felt like they were ready to take the next step. They came in day one ready to work and continued until the last day with that same even-keel attitude of we’re just going to work and earn every bit. They did it without ever batting an eye or ever questioning anything the coaching staff wanted to do. They just got to that next step by keeping their head down, working hard. I’m proud of that work ethic that they had.
Which one of your players did you find really inspiring this season?
DeCaluwe: You could look at a number of players who did amazing things. If you look at our forwards, watching Reese Frericks score 45 goals, having her have 10 assists is an unbelievable storyline for us. I think you can look at our backline of not giving up goals, the way Maddie Havlicek led the backline was also just really inspiring. To see a sophomore goalkeeper (Taylor Labay) play as well as she did in the supersectional, that was certainly inspiring to watch as well.
What got you into coaching?
DeCaluwe: I played soccer my whole life, it’s always been my biggest passion. I played in high school at Mundelein, I played at Eastern Illinois University. I was a goalkeeper and loved the intensity of the sport and so I knew. I was actually injured in college and didn’t get to finish my four years of playing due to a back injury, so I got to work with the goalkeepers my last two years and I knew I was going to go into coaching at that point. From that experience to right away getting involved once I was student-teaching at Cary-Grove, I coached the varsity team there, went to Vernon Hills after that, continued to coach the varsity level and finally got the opportunity at Richmond-Burton. So it was one of those things where I’ve been involved with at some level of soccer since I was 4 years old. I love the game.
How has your coaching style changed over the years?
DeCaluwe: I’ve definitely loosened up in a lot of ways. I used to be quiet on the bus, make sure you’re focused, to now I sort of let the players get themselves ready from us walking out listening to music to listening to music on the bus and seeing them laugh and have fun and go about their own way. You see some girls that sleep the whole way there and you’ve got some girls who are in the back of the bus dancing. Whatever it takes for them to be there in their own mental space and ready to compete is something that I’ve learned to take a step back and enjoy the game.
What is your proudest moment as a coach?
DeCaluwe: I would definitely say winning in the semifinal was a big moment to earn the opportunity to coach in a state championship. I looked around the stadium and was like this is an awesome moment. But I would say about 10 minutes into the second half of the state championship game I went to my coaching staff and said, ‘I know it’s 0-0 and not where we want to be but this is pretty fun,’ and they all just kind of laughed. It’s a moment for me that will always carry a lot of weight.
What is something that people don’t know about you?
DeCaluwe: I would rather be golfing than doing anything else. Just the fact that I love to compete, whether that’s golfing or playing “pig” on the driveway with my kids, I’m always trying to win.
What are your three favorite movies?
DeCaluwe: Let’s go with “Big Lebowski,” “Tin Cup” and “Kicking and Screaming.”
What is your most-prized possession?
DeCaluwe: This might sound lame but my family. I’ve got two great kids, a wife that is so supportive of my coaching and the time that it does take away from being there for the kids, riding them around. My wife is the backbone of this family.
Which player on this season’s team makes you laugh the most?
DeCaluwe: Lexie Anderson, she’s one of the kids who can never take anything too serious. We’ve asked her about it before games, why are you always dancing and being weird and she’s like, ‘I can’t get in my own head, this is my nervous energy.’ It actually drives Havlicek nuts and they warm up together. She’s always telling a joke, she’s always lightening the mood.
What will you remember the most about this year’s team?
DeCaluwe: The seniors, they got to put in their four years, they lost one year because of COVID-19 but they were always there to help, never complained, enjoyed a fantastic ride this year. Just the team in general, I’ll just never forget their will to fight, to enjoy every moment, whether a 1-0 loss, 6-2 loss, or a 7-0 win, they were always ready to go. I never had to fault effort. That’s a huge thing for a group that’s as hungry as they are, just be ready to compete every day.