The top three teams in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division played four extremely competitive soccer matches against each other this season, and it resulted in a three-way tie atop the standings.
East Aurora, Lake Park and Neuqua Valley each finished 4-0-2 in conference.
The Lancers and Wildcats went head-to-head in their conference finale last Tuesday, but neither team could solve each other in a 0-0 tie. The back line of Jim Kotowski, Paarth Joshi, Lucas Shaller and Jalen Watkins provided ample protection for Neuqua Valley goalkeeper Zach Goldstein, while Dillon Hock, Joe Keane, Dom Azzolin and Joe DeSario did the same for Lake Park keeper Stephen Mack.
"Once they faced Streamwood (UEC River) and defeated them, this team believed that they could compete with the best in the conference," Lancers coach Anthony Passi said. "Lake Park has not been in a divisional race since 1994 and each game was special and memorable."
Each team also recorded ties against East Aurora, and each by the score of 1-1. The four conference wins picked up by both squads came against Bartlett, Metea Valley, South Elgin and Waubonsie Valley.
"After a slow 1-4 start to the season, the Wildcats have rebounded with improved play and an undefeated conference record," Neuqua Valley coach Skip Begley said. "In the two ties against East Aurora (1-1) and Lake Park (0-0), solid defense and strong goalkeeping kept us in the contest."
Waubonsie Valley settled for a 3-3 conference mark but will head into the postseason as hot as any team from the conference. The Warriors won their sixth straight game on Saturday, beating Oswego 3-0, also the team's third straight shutout.
Defending the offense:
When Metea Valley ended Benet's eight-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory on Sept. 27 it would not have been a surprise if the Mustangs' Gabe Gongora-Falla made a few remarkable saves to preserve the victory.
Instead, he scored the game-winner off a restart. Since then, Gongora-Falla has been multi-tasking on the field, spending some time in goal, while at other times becoming an offensive threat. Last Saturday Ian Jindrich played all 80 minutes in goal in a 1-0 shutout over Batavia.
"It was more that we wanted Gabe's intensity in the field," Mustangs coach Josh Robinson said about the change. "He just has a desire to win and drives his teammates. He hold himself and his teammates to a high expectation and his energy is great, as he pressures so hard throughout the pitch."
Robinson admitted that one of the toughest things he has had to deal with as coach is accommodating two quality goalkeepers. He did it last year with Derek Carothers and Gongora-Falla.
"I want to maintain consistency but also both deserve time," he added. "Splitting goalkeepers is tough on both of them, so I have been going with Gabe all year."
Robinson realizes the Mustangs will need to increase work rate and force the opposition into making mistakes. Gongora-Falla has proven he can help do that, just as well as he can man the goal.
"No matter what, Gabe is on the field as he does a great job leading," Robinson said. "Just his capacity is unknown."
DVC and MS Awareness:
A usual busy Tuesday night in DuPage Valley Conference took on added meaning on Oct. 2 as all eight teams participated in a Multiple Sclerosis Awareness campaign. West Aurora coach Joe Sustersic was diagnosed with MS two years ago.
Andrea Purcell, whose husband, Mike Purcell, is a former assistant coach under Jim Konrad at Naperville North, also has MS.
Players donned special orange-and-white uniforms for the occasion and raised money through T-shirt sales. Former Naperville North girls coach Al Harris and ReddPromo supplied the special uniforms.
MS is nerve disorder that can cause a variety of symptoms that can affect balance, vision, strength, coordination and bodily functions.
"Even though it's an auto-immune system disease, it's not as deadly as ALS," Sustersic said. "With the proper treatment, my quality of life is very good."
An estimated $4,000 was raised through T-shirt sales by the eight DVC schools as well as the four lower-level teams at West Aurora.
"As someone who has MS, it was honor seeing the entire conference play," Sustersic said. "Now in hindsight, it was humbling for me."
Anything can happen:
Addison Trail was one of the better teams at the start of the season, but recently the Blazers have been on a bit of a slide, posting just a 2-3-1 record over the past six games.
Willowbrook (4-15-1) ended a 10-game losing streak when it beat Elmwood Park on Saturday.
Addison Trail beat Willowbrook 3-2 in a PK shootout last Thursday. The Blazers also edged the Warriors 3-2 on Aug. 30. They could meet again in the Class 3A regional semifinals if the 16th-seeded Warriors can defeat 18th-seeded Bartlett on Friday night.
Lions, playoffs and runners-up:
Lisle, the Class 1A runner-up in 2011, opens IHSA tournament play this week by hosting a regional.
The Lions head into the postseason with a great deal of momentum, having won their previous six games, after battling against far bigger schools in the Pepsi Challenge.
"In the Pepsi it's a great opportunity to play against Class 3A schools and we're looking to get better in those scenarios," Lisle coach Kevin Perez said. "Now we've won six in a row and are feeling pretty good. We beat St. Joseph (3-1 on Oct. 1), who we started playing in 2006, and it was the first we have beaten them."
Eric Osika and Alhaji Kamara give the Lions a reliable, athletic and experienced duo on the attack while Kyle Hendzel has done a nice job patrolling the midfield.
"We definitely want to try to get back to the state finals again," Perez said. "The guys are working their butts off and all of them are trying to do whatever they can to contribute."
Falcons fighting back:
You've got to learn to take your lumps if you're going to build a soccer program, or you're going to have get lucky and have a dynamite class of newcomers step in and win right away. Right now, Wheaton North is taking its share of lumps.
Wheaton North has been punished this year with a 2-11-5 record through Oct. 8. The Falcons have battled, though, with the five draws as well as three 1-0 losses.
Still, they're a young team that will be able to use everything that's happened this year as a tool heading into next season. The team will lose six seniors to graduation but has eight juniors and six sophomores that can return in 2013.
There's no denying that Glenbard West, Naperville Central, Naperville North and Benet have been the most dominant teams in DuPage County this team, but there's a fourth school that's been arguably as hot, if not hotter.
Any guesses to what team this might be? If you answered Hinsdale Central then you've certainly been keeping an eye on the Red Devils, who have posted a tremendous 14-1-1 record since Aug. 25. And they've done this after a 0-2-1 start.
"I have been fortunate in 19 years to work with many great teams, and this year's Hinsdale Central team has been great in so many different ways, both on and off the field," Red Devils coach Michael Wiggins said. "They have great resolve, they're incredibly coachable and willing to work for each other. It is a group that has depth, strong goalkeeping, committed team defending and a willingness to take players on in the final third. A strong schedule has also served us well."
The Red Devils have outscored opponents 42-16 and they've posted 8 shutouts.