Why one of the best soccer players in Illinois chose to play basketball for Loyola
A former standout multisport athlete at Naperville North High School, Tom Welch had no shortage of scholarship offers and opportunities as he looked toward college athletics.
The Gatorade Illinois Boys Soccer Player of the Year winner as a goalkeeper, as well as the leading scorer on a team that won back-to-back DuPage Valley Conference titles, the Huskies' 6-8 specimen garnered 15 Division I basketball offers and could've played college soccer anywhere he'd wanted, said Naperville North soccer coach Jim Konrad.
But Welch chose Loyola and to play for who he describes as the best coach in college basketball -- Porter Moser -- a decision Moser said his staff worked tirelessly to make happen.
"From the moment we watched his tape and following him, it was clear he was a priority for us," Moser said. "He's an area kid that wanted to build something special close to home and as a coach, how can you not be thrilled by that?"
Moser, also a Naperville native, said bringing in local stars like Welch was a goal he outlined from the moment he took over the program in 2011. Inheriting a roster and a program that was failing to use the talent pool Chicago and its suburbs provided, Loyola looked to local recruits to solve its struggles on the court.
"When I got here we had one player from Illinois on the roster," Moser said. "We've built our success as a program around local guys like Donte Ingram, Cameron Krutwig, Milton Doyle and Lucas Williamson and Tom and this new class coming in is just the next step of continuing that success."
Welch said the attraction to a place like Loyola was instant. He felt comfortable with the school's proximity and recent success so the decision was an easy one and he signed on Aug. 9, 2018. It was just before the beginning of his senior soccer season -- one in which he would rewrite Illinois record books.
Despite committing to basketball long-term and playing the sport over nine months out of the year, Welch continued his domination in net for the Huskies. Posting a staggering 23-0 record as the team's starting goalkeeper and keeping 20 clean sheets, he helped Naperville North complete a record-setting 26-0 finish and back-to-back state championships.
"It sounds hyperbolic, but he truly is one of the most special athletes I've ever had the chance to coach," Konrad said. "His leadership on the field for us, paired with his athletic ability and incredible frame for a goalkeeper just made him borderline unstoppable for us."
Wasting no time, Welch parlayed this soccer success into a standout senior season on the basketball court. Averaging 21.0 points per game while grabbing 8.6 rebounds, the power forward led the way as the Huskies claimed a conference title to conclude a dominant multisport career in the northwest suburbs.
Now at Loyola and tasked with settling into college life, Welch said he has faced the challenge head-on, but said the difference in time commitment is staggering. But he said it helps to have a pair of his old travel basketball teammates making the journey with him.
Welch, La Lumiere's Paxson Wojcik and Brother Rice's Marquise Kennedy played together for the vaunted Illinois Wolves AAU basketball program before all deciding on Loyola.
Now Welch said they're talking national success for the Ramblers.
"Just to have a pair of my brothers here with me, and guys that I've played with for a long time before, this was a huge part of my commitment," Welch said.
Through four games, the Ramblers sit at 2-2, and Welch has started the season as a substitute for Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Cameron Krutwig. Despite early struggles for minutes, Welch said he's confident his time will come and Loyola will remain a program on the rise.
"The transition is really tough for anybody," Welch said. "But we know we're in for pretty big things here and I'm really happy with my choice."