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