AT BARRINGTON, 7 p.m. today
Warren (21-3-3) vs. Schaumburg (15-4-1)
Storyline: There was never doubt in the mind of Saxons coach Hamid Mehreioskouei that his club would advance deep into the state tournament, even after watching his team fall in shoot-out to Prospect in the Mid-Suburban League Cup. Sure enough, the energetic Saxons have been splendid in the postseason, including consecutive extra-time victories over Lake Park and St. Charles North to reach their second supersectional in the last three seasons.
If Rockford Boylan's trip into the Final 4 seemed pre-ordained for the No. 1-rated Titans, then someone forgot to tell Warren, which stunned the nationally ranked defending state champs in the sectional final to book its first supersectional appearance since 2006.
Who to watch: Schaumburg: Joey Faleni (Sr., MF, all-state, 13g, 9a), Jake Savino (Sr., F, 18g, 12a), Nick Abel (Sr., D, 6a), Christian Michalowski (So., D), Peter Piers (Sr., D), John Franco (Sr., MF, 6), Ben Beard (Sr., GK, 8 shutouts, 1.00). Warren: Patrick Schulz (Sr., D), Daniel Sczcepanek (Jr., MF, 19g, 20a), Brady Walsh (Sr., GK, 13.5 shutouts, 0.50), Tony Severini (Jr., F, 16g), Alex Brunnell (Sr., MF, 6g), Ryan Foster (Sr., MF, 8g).
Lowdown: The Saxons' high work rate has had the effect Mehreioskouei hoped for. In nearly every match of the season, he's watched opponents eventually wear down from the constant hounding, which rarely allows even the most technically skilled team easy possession. "We've stressed how important strong work ethic will take you as a team, and the guys have responded by doing just that, and more."
There's never any panic in this veteran club, much of that because of the exceptionally gifted Faleni, who guides his mates through the roughest of waters with inspirational play on both sides of the ball, and the goal-scoring ability of Savino, the Saxons' trump card. The flashy senior will work and work, sometimes with nothing to show for his efforts -- then boom -- game-winning strikes in OT against Lake Park, then against St. Charles North. Savino has 5 goals in the last 3 postseason matches.
There's much more to this club, including a terrific backline of (Abel, Michalowski, Piers) in front of a steady senior GK (Beard) and an ambitious MF which feriously tackles, runs, attacks and defends until the very end.
"We saw (Warren) against Boylan and they were amazing," said Mehreiouskoei. "They probably have the best group of players in the middle that we've seen all year, and that's something we've recognized, and hopefully will be able to manage. I really believe this is going to be one of those games where the pace is end-to-end from start to finish, but we're going to enjoy the experience and the fact that we're fortunate enough to be in our third supersectional in the last five years."
Warren's Jason Ahonen has done a masterful piece of managing this fall of keeping his team together as the Blue Devils fought through injuries that sidelined several of his players, including Marquette-bound Schulz and Brunell.
"This run has been all about team defense and outworking our opponent, but this is also the tightest knit group I've ever been associated, either playing or coaching, and they truly are all for one, and one for all," said Ahonen.
The Blue Devils have speed to burn, and with it will look to exploit on the flank, where they've enjoyed plenty of success all season long. Szczepanek is so very quick when going forward, yet able to feather passess to his mates with ease. Walsh is dominant at keeper, and he too has a stout back line in front of him.
Advancement: The winner makes the Final 4 of the Class 3A state tournament Friday against the Benedictine supersectional champion (Morton or Lincoln-Way West) at 7 p.m. at Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort.
AT MAINE SOUTH, 5 p.m. today
Fremd (15-5-2) vs. New Trier (10-10-1)
Storyline: Fresh from a confident run through the Palatine sectional, where it defeated state-ranked Libertyville and Prospect to advance into tonight's final, the Vikings are playing organized and air-tight along the back while clearly outworking all of their postseason opponents.
New Trier has benefited from good fortune as well as skill. The 10th-seeded Trevians were handed a lightning-shortened 1-0 victory over Leyden in its sectional semifinal to help keep their postseason hopes alive. One match later, Maine East provided little resistance as the Trevs dominated their CSL rival in a 4-0 victory.
Who to watch: Fremd: Brian Hindle (Sr., MF, 5g, 18a), Eric Leonard (So., MF, 8g), Yusuke Kanada (Sr., F, 9g), Matt Briars (Jr., D), Eric Scott (Jr., D), Jeremy Kosacz (Jr., MF), Nick Tambellini (Sr., MF), Colton Caesius (Sr., GK, 7.5 shutouts). New Trier: Andrew Cahill (Sr., F), Nick Popa (Sr., MF), Jeff Farina (So., F), Alex Underwood (So., F), Brian Hines (Sr., D), Niko Katsinis (Fr., GK).
Lowdown: The Vikings are blessed with two rare players in Hindle and Leonard. Each adds an element of calm and class into an all-out 80-minute pace for Fremd. The Vikings survived a close opener against MSL rival Wheeling to kick-start their tournament run and are stepping it up against some of the finest clubs around. "Our match against Wheeling was the wake-up call we needed," said Fremd coach Steve Keller. "We could have easily been out instead of still in at that point. But credit the team for getting themselves focused and back to playing our system."
Fremd rarely allowed much in the way of quality chances on frame against keeper Colton Caesius thus far. A steady back line led by Briars has simplified that part of the game for the Vikings. Up front, the trio of Hindle, Leonard and Kanada still defend and do all the dirty work on both sides of the ball to help ensure positive results.
After Fremd sent New Trier to its fifth loss in seven games on Oct. 1, Trevians coach Craig Fairbairn said he thought his team might still be one nobody would want to face in the postseason. That's certainly turned out to be the case, as New Trier, which finished third last season, is again on the verge of another Final 4 appearance. There are but two holdovers from that team -- Cahill and Popa.
Advancement: The winner heads fo the Class 3A state tournament to play the Normal supersectional champion (either Naperville Central vs. Quincy) at 5 p.m. Friday at Lincoln-Way North in Frankfort.