After starring in the Olympic Development Program and club soccer, junior forward Jack Finnegan hopes to lead a turnaround at Brother Rice. (Steve Millar / Daily Southtown)

By Steve Millar – Daily Southtown

For Brother Rice’s Jack Finnegan, the past year has been a whirlwind filled with success on the soccer field.

Since finishing his sophomore season with a team-high 26 goals for the Cruasers, Finnegan made an Olympic Development Program all-star team, won two national championships in club soccer and attracted attention from NCAA Division I and U.S. national team coaches.

It all has the skilled forward brimming with confidence heading into his junior year at Brother Rice.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” Finnegan said. “You don’t know what’s coming next. One minute I’m playing high school soccer and the next I’m winning a national championship.

“Now, it’s like if anyone wants to take a step forward and challenge me or what I can do it’s like, ‘No, I’ve got this.’”

Finnegan was selected for the Olympic Development Program’s Midwest Region team for the third straight year and was named an all-star at the ODP’s Florida Interregional Tournament in December.

Later that month, he helped the Chicago Inferno win the Super Y U-16 national tournament in Florida, scoring a hat trick in the championship game.

In July, he had another huge performance at a national event, scoring nine goals in five games at the U.S. Club Soccer National Cup in Colorado, lifting Eclipse to the U-16 title.

“All these experiences have made me a better player,” Finnegan said. “The first time I played in an ODP regional tournament, my game broke down because of my nerves. The biggest thing was getting past that moment and knowing I could play with those kids.

“Since then, it’s been nerve-free. I really slow down and think about the game more now, analyze how I can be better than everyone I play against.”

Finnegan hopes to play for a major Division I program. He said there’s mutual interest between him and Notre Dame.

An ultimate dream would be to make the U.S. national team.

“John Hackworth (then the coach of the U-17 national team) came to watch me at a tournament in San Diego this summer,” Finnegan said. “He texted my coach before the tournament to say they were interested in me.

“That was a big deal. If I could ever play for the national team, it’d be a dream come true.”

For now, Finnegan is squarely focused on a smaller goal — turning around the Brother Rice program. While he’s personally thrived on the field, the Crusaders have won just four games over his first two seasons.

There’s optimism for the future, though. Rice alum Matt Prunckle is the new coach after leading St. Laurence to Catholic League Green titles the last two seasons.

Prunckle knows he has a star to build around.

“The thing that has made Jack a great player is his competitive drive,” Prunckle said. “He always wants to get better. He’s one of the most coachable kids in terms of he’ll ask questions and get involved in the thought process of the coach to help himself improve.

“The last couple years, in situations where others might put their heads down and pout, he never did. We want to put him in situations where he can thrive even more.”

The Crusaders’ success is important to Finnegan.

“This program means so much to me,” he said. “I really want Brother Rice soccer to be back on the map. Hopefully, all the hard work we’re putting in pays off.

“Even if I’m not around to bear the fruits of it, I want us to be a top program within two or three years.”