FENTON -- State champions -- again.
Notre Dame midfielder Ryan Willen debated over whether to return to the Bulldogs after winning a Class 2 title with the team last fall. He was considering focusing primarily on his basketball career.
But Willen did return with the idea in mind of winning another state championship.
And he played a big role in earning Notre Dame back-to-back crowns by netting two goals and adding an assist in a 4-1 Bulldogs victory over Smithville in the Class 2 title game Saturday afternoon at the Anheuser-Busch Center in Fenton.
Willen said the second one feels just as sweet as the first.
"You can't compare them [the two titles} because it[']s just two different teams, and last year it seemed like our two state games were a lot closer and there was more emotion after the game," Willen said. "But it still feels just as good."
"It's perfect," he added.
Willen's first goal came just 22 seconds into the contest on a pass from midfielder John Unterreiner. It gave Notre Dame a 1-0 advantage.
"John Unterreiner just beat his guy down the line, got to the touch line and hit a beautiful ball across, and it just landed right on my foot and I put my laces on it and it found the back of the net," Willen said. "I think as soon as that first goal went in we really calmed down a lot. It got a lot of the nerves out and made us play a lot better as a team."
Willen made it 2-0 just about 13 minutes later when he received a line-drive pass on a free kick by sweeper Mark Himmelberg.