The Burlington Central and Dundee-Crown boys soccer teams are case studies on how team unification can lead to a payday at the wins window.
The Rockets currently sport a 16-3-2 record and won the Big Northern Conference East Division title with a 10-1-1 mark. Central also took home the Hampshire tournament title.
Dundee-Crown is 17-3-1 and finished third in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division with a 4-2 mark. The Chargers owned a lengthy unbeaten streak and win streak earlier this year.
Now, the Rockets and Chargers would like to ratchet up the stakes even higher during the postseason. Central opens play Wednesday in its own Class 2A Burlington Central regional against neighbor Hampshire. Central is the No. 2 seed, while Hampshire is seeded third. Kaneland is the top seed in the field.
Dundee-Crown is the No. 3 seed in the Class 3A Barrington regional and faces host and No. 2 seed Barrington Tuesday at 7 p.m. following a Cary-Grove (No. 1 seed) vs. McHenry (No. 4 seed meeting).
Central coach Mike Gecan points to the team's commitment during the off-season as a major catalyst in the team's strong play.
"Our guys worked very hard during the off-season both on technical ability and in the weight room to make sure this season would be special," he says.
Defenseman Brad Yarwood says players have taken an all-in approach this year.
"Everybody has bought into the strategy," he says. "We work hard every day. We've worked hard since the summer. We carry that work ethic into games. We're out there executing."
Central excels both offensively and in the back whether it's Bryce Warner (16 goals, 8 assists) up front, Matt O'Connor (8 goals, 13 assists) in the midfield or Yarwood on defense. Ian Graffagna has 10 goals and 7 assists, while Sean Fitzgerald has 8 goals and 2 assists and Alan Camarena has 7 goals and 2 assists.
"We have tried a couple new formations this season which has allowed us the opportunity to attack teams in a variety of ways," Gecan says. "We have a very strong back line and our goalies (led by Brett Rau; 66 saves, 12 goals against, 4 total shutouts) are amazing."
Yarwood adds: "We control the game well and get good passes. We have strong, athletic players that can win good balls."
Gecan also has been pleased with how the team has worked on its communication throughout the year.
"Our communication has been improving, but our players still need to be more consistent with coaching each other on the field."
Gecan isn't looking to far into the future now that the playoffs have arrived.
"We will take it one game at a time just like the regular season," he says.
"We have to take this game-by-game," Yarwood states. "We can't overlook any team. We're focusing on Hampshire 100 percent, executing our strategy and putting the ball in the back of the net."
Dundee-Crown was equally impressive during the regular season. Chargers coach Rey Vargas points to wins over Waukegan, Larkin and Jacobs as key turning points for the squad this season.
Jose Angeles leads the Chargers with 13 goals and 6 assists, while Malik Washington has 10 goals and 3 assists. Eduardo Arellano has 9 goals and 2 assists. Christian Martinez has 98 saves and 11 shutouts this season.
"We have players willing to work hard and sacrifice for each other," Vargas says. "They work well together and click on and off the field. We have always had talented and competitive teams, but this team decided before the season started that they would stand out among teams of the past and set clear goals and buy into them."
According to D-C's Ben Stone, there is one major difference this season in the team chemistry department.
"The difference between this year and last year is we act more like a family than a team," he says. "We count on each other on the field to get the job done. That's very important in soccer. We trust our teammates and we trust everybody to get the job done. We have no weak players on our team. Anybody can come in and do what we need done on the field. We've built on this starting back to this past summer. We've worked real hard this season to get to where we are and it's paid off with our record. We've all stayed together and have been positive and have played Dundee-Crown soccer."
D-C excels by working the ball around and breaking down defenses, Vargas says. "We also use our speed to catch teams off-guard on counterattacks," he adds.
D-C's defense has allowed just 12 goals in 21 games. "Our defenders are doing a great job communicating, shifting and supporting each other," Vargas says. "They have helped our goalie earn 11 shutouts this season."
The Chargers had a string of 16 games without a loss this season and won 14 games in a row at one point.
"We have had more consistent performances and have really learned to work with each other," Vargas says.
In addition to Angeles and Washington on offense, Vargas also cites strong play from defenders Arellano and Francisco Nava. "Three of those four are returning from last year," he says. "They remind everyone that the team comes first and anyone not buying into it will be left behind."
Vargas knows his team will have its work cut out in the Barrington regional.
"It will be interesting," he says. "Our regional will be tough to get out of. All four teams could have been the No. 1 seed in many of the other regionals. We must perform and do our best. In the state tournament, it only works one way -- win or go home. Our matchup against Barrington will be a tremendous challenge. We will have to perform under high pressure on their home field. We are up for the challenge."
Huntley 4, Grayslake Central 0: Lucas Baker and Niko Mihalopoulos each scored twice to lead Huntley to a Fox Valley Conference crossover win Thursday. Eduardo Gonzalez had an assist for the Red Raiders (15-6-1) and Tommy Helm had 4 saves in goal.