St. Charles East senior defender Michael Macek thought that last year would have been the year for the Saints to break through.
It didn't happen as the team played inconsistently throughout the regular season and then were shut out in their playoff opener, finishing 6-10-1.
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While he may not have been a very good prognosticator a year ago, he's been a tremendous defensive leader this fall, helping guide the Saints to the Upstate Eight River Conference championship, the title in their own tournament and a big victory in the inaugural Upstate Eight Conference Crossover title game against East Aurora.
He also helped the team snatch the annual Fox Trophy from Batavia as the Saints combined to shut out its three local rivals, St. Charles North, Geneva and Batavia, by a combined score of 10-0 in the regular season.
Finally, last Saturday, he helped the Saints beat St. Charles North for the second time this season, as they pounded the North Stars, 7-1, to win their first regional title since 2001.
As a leader both on and off the field, Macek has been named the captain of the 2012 Tri-Cities All-Area Boys Soccer Team. He is the first captain chosen from St. Charles East since Jon Liechty in 2004.
"We've had some new guys this year and some guys who were injured but (Macek) has always been the guy taking control," St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison said. "All season he's done a great job of making sure we're not giving up anything in back and that's made it easier for us to move forward."
The defense set a goal before the season to not allow more than 10 goals on the year. They missed out on that goal as they have yielded 15 through Oct. 22. Still, they've been dynamite. Marmion scored three on them in a draw, a couple squads were able to put two in the net against them, but the Saints have also had two big handfuls of clean sheets as they've posted 10 shutouts.
"I've just tried to keep everyone in line and help the new guys out," Macek said. "We've been pretty solid just keeping the goals out of the net and getting it to our attackers."
While so much focus often comes down to how few goals a defense surrenders, little is mentioned about when the defense kick-starts the offensive attack, something the Saints have done all season.
Since losing 2-0, to Lyons on Aug. 29, the Saints have gone 13-0-1 through Saturday's regional championship and have outscored their opponents, 70-11. No, that's not a misprint, just eye-popping.
"We have a ton of pride and Jennison has us watch a lot of motivational videos," Macek said. "We've got great chemistry on the team and we know that if we do our part and not give up anything then our offense is going to click, get us some early goals and help relieve some of the pressure we face."
Regularly scheduled pasta dinners before games, an early-season downstate trip to Carbondale and simply hanging out as friends have all helped the team get closer to one another. Such unity has made Macek cherish his senior season even more.
"It just didn't pan out for whatever reason last year, but this (year) has been great," he said. "Our first goal is to make it to state, our second goal was to beat St. Charles North, our third goal was to win conference and our fourth goal was to win a regional title. As a three-year varsity player who had never won a regional championship that was big."
Macek's aggressiveness has defined the Saints all season and his ability to read opponents before they move the ball has helped the Saints get the ball into the attack quickly. He's also received plenty of assistance from those around him, including unheralded senior defender Ben Womac. He's also been able to play with younger brother, Cooper.
"I try to be a vocal leader and make sure we're playing aggressively," he said. "I try to read plays as quickly as I can, to play smart and to not force things too much. We have enough talent that we don't have to get out of control."
Junior TC Hull has been a major beneficiary of Macek's play as he's risen to become an incredibly talented scoring threat.
"It's great to have one of the best defenders on you're team because you know he's going to win the balls in the air and stop corners and free kicks," Hull said. "He's a great leader on and off the field."
Sophomore midfielder Taylor Ortiz learned real quick that when you play alongside Macek, you better play a full 80 minutes as hard as you can.
"He's taught me that you can never quit in a game," Ortiz said. "It could be 2-nil or 3-nil, but you can never quit, so you better play the whole game."
A decision regarding college has not been made yet, but it's a sure bet that Macek will be in the classroom next fall. Right now he's considering Dayton, Drake and the University of Denver. All three have soccer teams and each also has an accounting program, so each would be a good fit.
Just as Macek has been in leading the Saints defense.