Chicago Sun-Times
By Patrick Z. McGavin

August 2013 Archives

Not every team is Warren. Yet, the beauty of all sports, is with the start of the new soccer season Monday, Aug. 26th, every team starts in the same place. The best separate themselves from the pack.

Warren, Hinsdale Central, Lyons, Libertyville and Morton are likely playing for a state championship; St. Viator is a top threat in Class 2A. For others, success is measured, winning a regional, taking conference, doing better than the previous year.

Here is a snapshot, of sorts, of programs outside the top 20 to start the year, and what they hope to achieve.

Lincoln-Way West finished 14-9-3 last year. Coach Jeff Theiss has seven returning starters, led by senior midfielder Ian McGrath, one of the state's top players. The coach also touted senior midfielders Kipp Pavlovich and Paul Miller, senior forwards Adam Webb and Franco Pettinato, senior defender Kevin Staniszewski and keeper Tony Prospero. "I feel our program this season has a quality mix of experienced varsity athletes along with technical and talented underclassmen who have the ability to succeed at the varsity level," Theiss said.

Geneva (7-8-3) a year features four returning starters. Coach Ryan Estabrook is excited about two junior newcomers, Jason Lagger and Dylan Lange.

Notre Dame has not been known for its soccer program, but that could change under coach Reggie Lara. He called last year's team "perhaps [Notre Dame's] most successful soccer team in school history." The Dons have seven returning starters. Their best players are senior midfielder Lucas Carlson, senior keeper Robbie Hill (nine shutouts last year) and sophomore defender Nate Adams. Lara also likes sophomore midfielder Jack Werner and junior defender Joe Hilger. "We're a young team that still has a lot of experience," Lara said. "Our strengths are our speed on offense and our discipline and physical toughness on defense."

Ridgewood finished state runner-up in Class 2A three years ago. Coach Robert St. John, behind senior Adam Yaghmour, is looking to make another run. "The [Metro Suburban] is tough with Glenbard South, Timothy Christian, Fenton, and Riverside Brookfield all bringing back quality teams," he said.

Glenbard South (9-7-3 last year) is led by Matt Patterson and Joey Gjata, according to coach Melissa Pero.

Oak Park-River Forest returns just three starters from last year's team that beat Morton in the state tournament. "We are going to be an extremely young team this year with only six players that have varsity experience," coach Paul Wright said.. "The majority of the team will be juniors." Watch senior midfielder Tim Huettel and junior defender Mavin Gill.

Curie is making the leap the Public League's top division, the Premier. Coach Leon Kim has one of the city's best players in three-year starter Eric Gonzalez. "This will be our first season where every team we play will be a challenge," Kim said.

Leyden, with Addison Trail, is the top threat to power Morton in the West Suburban Gold. The Eagles return six starters from a 15-7-2 team. Sophomore Albert Arabik is one of the state's top sophomores (he had 15 goals and four assists last year). "We lost three kids to academy, but we will be quite competitive," coach Mark Valintis said. 'We have a strong senior group that is experienced and talented. Will be young in the back and in goal."

Stagg returns five starters from a 12-7-2 team that lost to eventual third-place finisher Sandburg 1-0 in a regional final. The foundation is set with two star, senior midfielder Roberto Torres and junior keeper Erick Estrada.

Homewood-Flossmoor was just 4-18-3 last year. Coach Chris Reid has a simple goal: "Improve on last year's record." He has five starters back, led by Andrew Lwanga and talented newcomers Sam Spencer, Nick Wassilak and Jonathan Brandt.

Mundelein has three returning starters from a team that went 8-9-4 a year ago. Coach Ernie Billittier said his top returning players are: Eric Morales, Armando Gomez, Carlos Huaracha, Lino Garcia and Mason Homsey. The top newcomer are Hector Ruiz, Chuy Alba, Stephen Wald, PePe Gonzalez. "We have a young group that is enthusiastic and have a team-first approach to the season," he said.

Plainfield East features an elite player in senior forward Ryan Olans (19 goals a year ago), one of four starters from last year's 9-6-4 group. Others to watch are sophomore keeper Isaias Marquez and seniors Cristian Rodriguez and Cristian Valdez. This year's junior class was undefeated as sophomores.

Niles West struggled last year, going 3-13-3. Coach Scott Ackman is excited by the return of Robert Ljubic and two prized freshmen, keeper Carlos Lome and defender Kevin Sanchez.

Maine East has eight returning starters from a 12-8-1 team. Coach Vic DiPrizio said watch sophomore forward Matt Coronado, senior midfielder Dino Tijanic, senior defender Marco Marin and senior keeper David Patyk.

Plainfield North coach Jim O'Hara returns seven starters, led by star midfielder/forward Logan Wright and senior midfielder Tyler Petprachan and senior defender Garret Gathman. "I believe we have a great opportunity to be the best team in our school's young history," O'Hara said.

Plainfield South coach David Brown has seven returning starters from a team that went 13-8-3. "We brought up a lot of very skilled sophomores to the varsity team last year, so hopefully their experience of going through a complete varsity season, coupled with the assets our seniors bring to the table, will make for an exciting season," he said. "We have been in a regional final two of the last three years, now it is time to see if we can take the next step."

Nazareth coach Doug Hunt has one of the state's most prolific scorers in senior forward Chris Tovar (26 goals, nine assists in 2012). Also watch senior midfielder Mark Haraus (eight goals) and defender Sam Abed.

Alan Matan assumes the coaching job at Maine West, a strong program embroiled in a notorious hazing incident that undercut its 17-3-3 season. He has one of the state's top players, four-year starter Nelson Herrera, and Jonathan Schmitz as a foundation to build around. "With a new coaching staff and new philosophies, it will be a challenge to quickly develop chemistry," Matan said.

Plainfield Central has been the dominant program in the Southwest Prairie. Coach Kevin Fitzgerald has three returning starters. His top newcomer are sophomore midfielder Jarod Petrovic, sophomore midfielder Gustavo Sanchez, junior defender Gage Wuestenfeld and senior defender Tom Poznanski. "We have a nice mix of youth and experience, and we're still learning how to play together," he said. "The conference is wide open with the other Plainfields all expected to be pretty good. Oswego should
also contend."

Larkin has seven returning players from a sectional finalist that went 20-4-2. Senior defender Tito Valezguez is the team's star. Also watch two newcomers, keeper Leo Perez and transfer Gonsalo Garcia, according to coach Ken Hall.

Bloom was on the verge of cracking the top 20. The Blazing Trojans have five returning starters from a 19-3-1 group that romped undefeated through the Southland. Senior forward Juan Elizalde (19 goals) is the team's star.

Loyola returns six starters from a 15-6-2 regional finalist. Players to watch are Gil Maloul, Alex Lopez and keeper Konrad Kowal.

Wes Molyneaux takes over one of the state's signature programs at New Trier. He has four returning starters. "Kevin Sokal and Jack Cornelo are our top returning players from last year," he said. "Both played in the back for us last year but will be moving up to midfield this year." The Trevians also return two experienced keepers in Andrew Gjersten and J.J. Jaggard.

Addison Trail is another team right on the verge of making the top 20 with six returning starters from a 14-6-1 team of a year ago. In addition to three returning all-conference players, Angelo Amta, Trey Smith and Sergio Marin, the team welcomes back star midfielder Elias Leyva from a year playing club.
"Our strengths this year are team speed, quickness, and ability to put the ball in the net," coach Ryan Dini said.

Wheaton Warrenville South is the top threat to perennial powers Naperville Central and Naperville North in the DuPage Valley. The Tigers have one of the state's top backlines, led by star senior defender Joey Spera and Mike Stelletello. Offensively, watch out for junior midfielder Elliot Kettle, junior forward Jurguen Guzman and junior midfielder Ian Daniels.

In his second year at Neuqua Valley, Skip Begley has a solid nucleus with two gifted playmakers, senior forward Jake Loncar and junior forward Ryan Ross. Junior midfielder Xavi Ortiz is the team's other returning starter.

Rolling Meadows returns six starters from a developing team. Coach Peter Mikulak touts junior midfielder Brett Gibson, junior forwards David Zarate and Arthur Giedrojc and senior midfielder Mike D'Acquisto.

For boys soccer participants, their summer is over.

Formal practice began this week for the boys' fall campaign. The IHSA permits teams to begin playing games on Monday, Aug. 26th. The Sun-Times' boys soccer preview, spotlighting the top teams and players to watch, is going to be unveiled very soon.

What follows is a curio, if you will, a preview of the preview.

Of course, soccer, like most specialized sports, has become a nearly year-round affair. The available talent pool has also been dispersed through the rise and increasingly popularity of academy and club programs. A great unknown appears to govern this year. "In some cases, we won't know what kids are playing club until the start of [practice]," one coach said.

The incursion of club is something coaches have all dealt with and consequently braced for. The question of club or high school is one argued for another day. Approximately 30 players that were named to the all-state or all-section teams, selected by the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association (IHSSCA), return this. A nearly similar amount of players named honorable mention also return.

As a quick refresher on how the 2012 year played out:

Warren defeated top-ranked Naperville Central 2-1 in overtime for the Class 3A state title. Sandburg defeated Stevenson in the third-place match. In Class 2A, Peoria Notre Dame won its second title in the last three years. St. Viator defeated Wheaton Academy for third-place.

The Blue Devils suffered significant graduation losses, especially its dynamic offensive personnel such as Daniel Szczepanek, Sean Kirwan, Auner Solis and Nick Wegrzynowicz. Even so, coach Jason Ahonen has built a formidable program designed for success over the long haul, and his team is going for the hat trick: three successive Final Four appearances.

"While our team will look very different on offense with the graduation of 4 offensive starters, we feel that we have players that are ready to fill those voids," Ahonen said.

The conferences to watch are, again, the two North Suburban leagues, both divisions of the West Suburban (pay special attention to the Silver), DuPage Valley, the two sections of the Central Suburban and the East Suburban Catholic Conference.

The West Suburban Silver could have four or five teams in the Sun-Times' top 20 throughout the season. Hinsdale Central edged Lyons for the title last year. Oak Park-River Forest is always dangerous. Glenbard West and a resurgent Downers Grove North are also teams to watch. "The West Suburban will again rate as one of the strongest conferences in Chicagoland from top to bottom, and the Silver Division will be incredibly difficult," Hinsdale Central coach Michael Wiggins said.

Some big coaching changes are also worth watching. The most interesting is at perennial power Naperville North. Steve Goletz, who has orchestrated back-to-back Class 3A state title for the Huskies' girls program, glides into the boys head coaching job, taking over for his mentor, Jim Konrad, who is the school's Athletic Director. Naperville North and Naperville Central are again the teams to beat in the DuPage Valley.

Here is a comprehensive list of the defending conference champions:

Big Northern East: Burlington Central
Central Suburban North: Highland Park and Maine West
Central Suburban South: Waukegan
Catholic Blue: Fenwick and Saint Ignatius
Catholic White: St. Laurence
DuPage Valley: Naperville Central and Naperville North
East Suburban Catholic: Benet
Fox Valley Fox: Johnsburg
Fox Valley Valley: Cary-Grove
Metro Suburban: Riverside-Brookfield
Mid-Suburban Cup (West): Palatine
Mid-Suburban East: Buffalo Grove
North Suburban Cup (Lake): Libertyville
North Suburban Prairie: Round Lake
Southland: Bloom Township
South Suburban Blue: Bremen
South Suburban Red: Eisenhower
Southwest Prairie: Plainfield Central
SouthWest Suburban Blue: Lincoln-Way East
SouthWest Suburban Red: Stagg and Thornton co-op
Suburban Christian: Wheaton Academy
Upstate Eight Cup (River): St. Charles East
Upstate Eight Valley: East Aurora, Lake Park and Neuqua Valley
West Suburban Gold: Morton
West Suburban Silver: Hinsdale Central

Some Chicago high school and club soccer stars made a spectacular statement on a national stage.

As detailed in the Aug. 3rd print edition of the Sun-Times, Naperville North graduate Zoe Swift punctuated her remarkable career with yet another astounding achievement. She scored two goals, including the game-winner in the 110th minute, as the Aurora-based Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo captured the women's U18 US national championship last Sunday afternoon in Overland Park, Kansas.

Projections and comparisons are not always fair, much less accurate, but it seems valid to infer from the results that Chicago soccer stood apart from the crowd this year. The bulk of the 19 players on Team Chicago are from the western suburbs. Sixteen of those players graduated this year. It was a ridiculously stacked lineup.

Five players on the team were Sun-Times first-team All-area performers: Swift, Plainfield North's Ashley Handwork, Neuqua Valley's Gianna Dal Pozzo, Carmel's Meegan Johnston and Waubonsie Valley's Rachele Armand. Three other players on the team made either the second or third team.

Credit Phil Nielsen, the Elite Academy Director who coached the team. At the national level, teams tend to play year-round. He took a group of disparate players, even though many were teammates and played against each other and, and molded them in just a couple of months.

"The ability to have chemistry on the field after three or four months apart comes down to a couple of things," Nielsen wrote from Denmark, where he took a group of his younger players for a tournament.

"Firstly, that we have a very clear playing concept that all the players understand and have bought into. Secondly, that the players are very talented and very serious players, so they can execute the game-plan pretty easily. They are fit and they have a great soccer-intelligence to go with their great technical abilities."

The Northfield-based FC United Select went 1-2 in its pool play. They played a crucial role in sharpening Team Chicago's resolve and determination after they surprised Botafogo in the Illinois State Cup final 2-1 in June.

"That was a wake up call," Dal Pozzo said. "Our coaches got on us, about our attitude and intensity, and said we couldn't expect to just go out there and play and win. In the last month, we really put in the time and the effort to develop team chemistry and play at a higher level."

Impressively, several of the players toggled back and forth from their summer college workouts and summer school schedules to play in the tournament. The emotional victory was deeply satisfying. "It was a great way to end our high school career," Handwork said.

The members of the national title team are, alphabetically listed, with their high schools in parenthesis:

Rachele Armand (Waubonsie Valley), Bryce Banuelos (York), Katie Ciesiulka (Neuqua Valley rising senior), Hope D'Addario (Neuqua Valley), Gianna Dal Pozzo (Neuqua Valley), Karla DiJohn (Waubonsie Valley), Megan Geldernick (Metea Valley), Ashley Handwork (Plainfield North), Heather Handwork (Plainfield North rising senior), Alexis Jakuszewski (Wheaton Warren South rising junior), Kaitlin Johnson (Rosary), Meegan Johston (Carmel), Brooke Ksiazek (Neuqua Valley), Dana Miller (Wheaton Warrenville South), Molly Piech (Rosary), Danielle Pitaro (Glenbard South), Jenna Romano (Waubonsie Valley), Zoe Swift (Naperville North) and Kendall Wilde (Waubonsie Valley)

Team Chicago was not the only team to make a statement. FC United Select finished last in its pool, but they had just a negative-1 goal differential in the three games, underlying how close they were. Graduated Rockford Boylan star Abby Reed (Indiana State) tied Swift with three goals for top individual goal scorers, even though she played one fewer game.

The Naperville-based NSA Jaguars, led by Naperville North standout rising junior Abbie Boswell, finished 0-2-1 in the U16 nationals.

In the U15 bracket, Oak Brook-based Eclipse Elite Black 97/98 defeated the Cleveland-program Ambassadors FC 4-1 in overtime to capture the national crown. Zoe Redei and Alissa Gorzak scored two goals apiece. Redei's first goal, in the 73rd minute, forced overtime. Don't expect to see this gifted group at the high school level. The team's entire roster plays for Eclipse exclusively.

On the men's side, in the U18 finals, the Lemont-based powerhouse Raiders FC Premier lost a 2-1 heartbreaker on penalty kicks against California-based West Coast FC. The Raiders dominated the title match, registering a nearly 4-1 advantage (22-6) on shots and a greater than 2-1 edge (8-3) in shots on goal. The Raiders recorded the most points and generated the greatest goal differential of the eight teams playing in the nationals.

Former Mather star Qudus Lawal, who led the Rangers to the 2011 Class 2A state championship, was a standout for the Raiders, as was Proviso East's graduated star Alexis Monteon. Playing in the same pool as the Raiders, the Naperville-based Galaxy finished 0-2-1. Graduated Naperville Central star Patrick Flynn, the Sun-Times Player of the Year who's about to launch his college career at DePaul, had three goals in the tournament, tied with Monteon for second highest.

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