It was the first major decision Ben Beary made when he was named Bartlett boys soccer coach.
Two years later his program is poised to cash in on it.
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The school's freshman coach in 2007 and 2008, Beary was hired to lead the varsity a year later and chose to elevate five talented sophomores: midfielders Fabio Aiello and Anthony DiNuzzo, forwards Tyler Lake and Charlie Sordini and defender Joey Morgan.
All five had played together on the club team FC Panthers since they were 6 years old.
To make room on the roster for the five sophomores, Beary cut some returning varsity players, not a choice a coach takes lightly. Beary said he acted in the team's best long-term interest.
"It wasn't an easy decision, but I think we made the right decision for the program," he said this week. "Getting these guys the experience they needed as sophomores paid off last year and will pay off this year."
Bartlett's accomplishments the past two seasons are without precedent. The five sophomore call ups helped the varsity win a program-record 15 matches in 2009. They went 14-7-4 in 2010 and won the first regional boys soccer title in school history on the strength of Lake's goal, assisted by Morgan's free kick.
The Hawks didn't stop there.
Bartlett's run through the Class 3A state tournament included a 2-1 victory over Elk Grove in a Schaumburg sectional semifinal. Sordini was the hero in that contest. He ripped the ball into the upper right corner of the net to account for the winning goal in the 86th minute.
The fairy tale ended in one of the most compelling sectional title games in state history. The Hawks had the lion's share of scoring chances against Leyden in regulation and overtime but they couldn't capitalize.
Bartlett eventually lost a heartbreaker not decided until the 34th penalty kick of a shootout. It finally ended when Sordini's shot attempt was slowed by the Leyden goalkeeper, who then scrambled to his feet and made a second save before the bouncing ball could cross the line.
"That was crazy," Aiello said of the penalty kicks. "I had to take two of them. It was the most nerve wracking thing I've ever had to do. One team had to lose. Unfortunately, it was us."
DiNuzzo didn't attempt any of those penalty kicks. A supremely skilled player in the midfield, he didn't play for Bartlett as a junior, opting instead to compete for respected club team Sockers FC Chicago. He's back in the Bartlett lineup for his senior season, which is a huge shot in the arm for his high school side.
"It was a good experience playing club, but coming back and playing with your friends you've played with your whole life is just different," said DiNuzzo, an uncommitted college prospect. "It's just fun.
"And we've got a lot of talent. That's one of the main reasons I came back this year. I think we could really go far with the kids we've got. We lost a lot of players from last year, but this is pretty much our freshman team and our freshman team won more games than any other freshman team in Bartlett history."
The Hawks are unquestionably built to win this year. The roster of 21 contains 17 seniors, led by the five who were elevated to the varsity as sophomores, each of whom possesses different strengths.
DiNuzzo is the skilled, finesse midfielder, whereas, Aiello (5 goals, 5 assists in 2010) is a facilitating midfielder with a physical, bruising style. Team co-captains, they complement each other well. "Having a little of both styles in the middle has given us a creative attack," Beary said.
Lake (3 goals, 4 assists) is a forward with the height (6-foot-1) and weight (190) to mix it up in the air successfully.
"When I go up for the ball they either bounce off me or don't go up as high because I have a pretty good vertical, too," Lake said.
Morgan (2 goals, 2 assists) has a high soccer IQ, according to his coach, which makes him the perfect watchdog defender in front of senior goalkeeper Christian Alva.
"You have to have somebody who not only has the physical ability but the intelligence to play your center-back line,"Beary said. "Joey has done that well for us for two years now."
Sordini takes on a bigger role this season. A starter in about half of Bartlett's games last year, he scored 4 goals and added 3 assists last year but is expected to raise those totals as a full-time starter this fall.
Because the five players have competed together for most of the last 12 years, they have an innate sense of each other's whereabouts and intentions on the pitch.
"I can see where Fabio's going and where Tyler's going, and Charlie can always read my mind with what I'm trying to do," Morgan said. "And Dinuzzo is just in the right spot every time. I don't always know why. It just works out that way for us."
Bartlett's players not only understand each other, they understand strategy. The season started on Aug. 25 with a disappointing 2-1 loss to St. Charles East. The Hawks played down a man for most of the second half due to a red card.
Afterward, the players approached their coach with some suggestions, which he not only considered but implemented.
"We're going to be making some adjustments to our formations, to our lineup, and all of that started with them coming to me after that game and talking to me about where we should be going," Beary said. "They know how to use their own talent best because they've played for so long. They are all co-coaches.
"What I'm encouraged by after that loss was the way they reacted to it. They could have very easily gotten frustrated with each other. Instead, they said, 'Here's where we are, here's where we need to be and here's what we need to do to get there.' We've probably had our best training sessions since that loss."
The Hawks don't expect many more losses, however. With what could be its most talented and experienced team to date, Bartlett has its sites set on winning the first conference title in school history and a whole lot more.
"A successful season for me would be going to state," DiNuzzo said. "I think we could do that with the players we've got."
Beary didn't list a specific goal, but he agrees the sky is the limit.
"This is definitely the year, not to put too much pressure on us because what will happen will happen," he said.
"But I'm confident that on our best day we can play with anyone on their best day. In the course of a season anything can happen, but I can tell you it will not be a matter of talent. We have enough talent to go to the absolute top this year."