Top local teams: Benet, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, West Chicago.
Top players: Conner Allen (Naperville Central, Sr., D), Kevin Anderson (Neuqua Valley, Sr., F), Max Carey (Wheaton Warrenville South, Sr., MF), Jack Cicchini (Waubonsie Valley, Sr., D), Jack Cordes (Waubonsie Valley, Jr., D), Kyle Dal Santo (Benet, Sr. GK), Matt DeJong (Timothy Christian, Sr., D), Nate Donovan (Metea Valley, Jr., F), Ben Draus (Willowbrook, Sr., MF), Patrick Flynn (Naperville Central, Sr., F), Thomas Gkotse (Glenbard South, Sr., MF/F), Jake Goehring (Metea Valley, Sr., F), Zack Goldstein (Neuqua Valley, Sr., GK), Gabe Gongora-Falla (Metea Valley, Sr., GK), Madisen Gonzalez (Naperville North, Sr., MF), Andrew Grabavoy (Downers Grove South, Jr., MF), Aaron Griffin (Glenbard West, Sr., D), Daniel Hernandez (West Chicago, Sr., D), Brooks Jay (Wheaton North, Sr., D), Joe Keane (Lake Park, Jr., MF), Tom Kerby (Wheaton Warrenville South, Sr., MF), Sam LaLonde (Downers Grove South, Sr., MF), Jake Loncar (Neuqua Valley, Jr., F), Diego Munoz (West Chicago, Sr., MF), Michael Pavliga (Naperville Central, Sr., GK), Jack Patrick (Naperville Central, Sr., MF), Tim Reinders (Wheaton Warrenville South, Sr., GK), Isaac Roberts (Wheaton North, Sr., MF), Frankie Saiz (Waubonsie Valley, Sr., F), Ryan Scott (Glenbard North, Sr., F), Alex Senak (Benet, Sr., MF), Joe Sullivan (Naperville North, Sr., MF). Jennaro Terrazas (West Chicago, Sr., MF/F). Robert Tomecek (Benet, Sr., D), Zack Venzon (Glenbard West, Sr., F), Neil Wiaranowski (Naperville North, Sr., D).
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Outlook: It would appear that Naperville Central and Naperville North could again be battling for supremacy in the DuPage Valley Conference and then a lengthy post-season trip. They won't be the only ones, though, as West Chicago made a name for itself last fall and should be strong once again.
The Redhawks gave the Huskies their only loss of the season in the Naperville North sectional championship and then went on to claim second place in Class 3A. The cupboard is far from bare at Naperville Central, which returns seven starters, including fourth-year players Patrick Flynn and Conner Allen.
"As a team we scored 46 goals last year and are looking to increase that number this year with many attacking players coming back," Redhawks coach Troy Adams said. "Some players will be adjusting to new positions this year, so getting everyone on the same page will be an important part of the preseason."
One area of concern could be the back line, where as many as four new players could earn starting nods. On the other side of town, the Huskies will look to reload as they only return six players from last year's nationally ranked team.
"The Huskies are going to have to mature quickly and find a way to generate goals after losing 48 goals to graduation," Huskies coach Jim Konrad said. "The loss of Kevin Anderson in the net is also a concern with four goalkeepers battling to man the nets this year. This will be an interesting year."
Joe Sullivan, who scored 17 goals and had 20 assists over the past two seasons, gives the team a formidable threat, while Madisen Gonzalez and Neil Wiaranowski will look to lead the midfield and backline, respectively.
West Chicago is coming off a 16-6-4 season and a second-place finish in the conference. Their only loss in conference was a tough, 2-1 decision to the Huskies. Just before the postseason tournament, they knocked off the Redhawks, 2-1. Jose Villa takes over the coaching reigns for the Wildcats and will look for his tri-captains, Daniel Hernandez, Jennaro Terrazas and Diego Munoz to lead the way.
"I know the DVC is always going to have tough teams and competition," Villa said.
Wheaton Warrenville South lost 14 players from last year's roster, so several newcomers will need to step up. Sophomores Mitch Cin and Luis Cruz Perez join the squad, while seniors Max Carey and Tom Kerby, juniors Javier Rojas and Joey Spera and goalkeeper Tim Reinders are back.
"We have several experienced players in the offensive third that will allow us to threaten while our young but enthusiastic defensive core tries to develop some continuity in their play," Tigers coach Guy Callipari said.
On the other side of town, Wheaton North also will have plenty of new faces and certainly its share of young ones, boasting a roster that features more than a dozen underclassmen. In the early going the Falcons will just be getting up to speed with varsity soccer.
Glenbard East has plenty of veterans with 11 seniors and just six juniors. The Rams hope it correlates into more success. They went 4-11-3 last season and were shut out on eight occasions.
Glenbard North lost 15 players to graduation, including seven seniors. The Panthers will welcome 13 new players to the team this season. Seniors Ryan Scott, Eric Tenut and Patrick Walen are back along with junior midfielder CJ Koeller.
"Returning 'core' players are being asked to learn new positions in a new system," Panthers coach Gregg Koeller said. "I'm sure we will go through some growing pains early on, but we are preaching patience, perseverance and a strong work ethic to the kids and their attitudes have been great."
It's very likely that the top team in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division will prove to be one that has Valley in its name. Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley are all expected to battle for a division crown, but East Aurora, Bartlett, Lake Park and South Elgin should also make it very competitive.
The Warriors have more depth than a season ago and are senior-laden, with 11 players in their final year of high school, including Jack Cicchini, Timmy Miller and Frankie Saiz.
The Wildcats will look to adapt to new coach Skip Begley, a longtime fixture at Hinsdale Central. They're back to defend their title, which they shared with East Aurora last year.
Metea Valley can enjoy the security of a standout stopper in the net, with senior Gabe Gongora-Falla. The Lancers lost 16 players to graduation and 32-year head coach Norm Hillner. The good news is that Anthony Passi has taken over for Hillner and coached the JV last fall. Most of his players are now on the varsity.
You can never count out Benet with senior standout Kyle DalSanto back in goal and with Robert Tomecek to lead the defense. The Redwings aren't going to surrender many goals, so it's up to midfielder Joey Chiariello as well as Brad Bozych and Alex Senak to ensure the team can put some offense together this spring.
"Honestly this is the type of team that is going to win big games but we will need to find ways to score in order to win the games we should," Benet coach Sean Wesley said. "With three returning starters on defense and a goalkeeper who could be Benet's first All-America soccer player, we should be in every game we play."
Youth and injuries slowed Downers Grove South a season ago, but the Mustangs look ready to rebound as junior midfielder Andrew Grabavoy's broken foot has healed and seniors Sam LaLonde and Tom Wendt are also back.
"Despite the difficult season we finished the season playing well," Downers Grove South coach Jon Stapleton said. "I hope we can continue to pick up where we left off at the conclusion of the 2011 season."
Glenbard West will turn to captains Aaron Griffin and Zack Venzon to challenge in the West Suburban Silver. Hinsdale Central should be competitive and could really become dangerous if its midfielders and forwards become more consistent scoring threats.
Timothy Christian got some early season redemption when it opened its season with a 2-0 victory over Lisle. Last fall Lisle beat Timothy Christina in triple overtime and then proceeded to take second place in the Class 1A tournament. Perhaps this is Timothy Christian's year to be the dominator in 1A. The team welcomes the return of goalie Danny Leach, a pair of senior defenders and senior forwards as well as a solid mix of talented juniors and seniors.
"A legitimate target for this team is to win their regional, which is always difficult to do," Timothy Christian coach Rudy Gesch said. "If they are able to accomplish this, the sky's the limit for this team."