Class 2A boys soccer
Where: Lincoln-Way North High School (Frankfort)
When: Semifinals at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday; third place and championship at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday.
Storyline: Since the switch to a three-class system in 2008, St. Viator and Peoria Notre Dame have dominated 2A.
St. Viator (20-3-3) vs. Urbana (20-2-0), 1 p.m. Friday
Who to watch: St. Viator's Spencer Moore (Jr, F, 17a), Ashwin Cornelius Sr, MF), Troy Wheeler (Sr, D, 8g), Michael Duszynski (Sr, D), Jackson Owens (Sr, F, 10g), Nick Winter (Jr, F, 10g), Michael McGrath (Sr, GK, 12 shutouts), Ryan Henry (Jr, MF, 6a). Urbana's Miguel Fierro (Sr, MF, 21g), Jonathan Lukusa (Sr. F, 20g, 11a), Brian Lopez (Sr, F, 11g), Gesi Muharremi (Jr, F, 10g), Brian Summers (Sr, GK, 0.53).
Lowdown: What an odd couple Urbana and St. Viator make. The former, without a single title to its name, the latter, with one of the largest trophy cabinets in this half of the state. Together theyr'e the perfect match, due in part to the distinguished careers of their coaches.
Mike Taylor, with 472 victories (409 at St. Viator) and Urbana's Randy Blackman (355 wins) will bring more than 800 combined wins to the tournament. But neither coach is much concerned about career achievement this weekend.
"When you get here, everyone is an equal despite your record for the season, or career, and that's the approach we'll take when we take on Urbana," said Taylor.
The presence of the Lions in the last four confirmed their early season promise to themselves, and the high expectations placed upon a program which year after year always is in the thick of things.
"Our first goal is to always win the East Suburban Catholic Conference, but in the end, we want to have a strong run in the postseason, with a chance to play for a state title," said Lions captain and two-time all-area defender Troy Wheeler during the final weeks of the regular season.
The three-year veteran was in the stands watching his older brother (Trevor, now a standout at Wisconsin) when the Lions won it all in 2009.
It appeared the Lions were on the fast track to be a strong favorite to do so after a superb weekend of soccer culminated in a victory over a talented 3A side in West Chicago to win the Mid-State Classic at Celtic Park in Palatine. But things didn't go as well from there, as St. Viator lost its final two games of the regular season, to Evanston and conference rival Benet.
"We kept looking for the team we watched during those three tournament games, but we never seemed to match the level of play, or work rate that we brought against three very good teams that we beat," said Taylor.
One reason might be the absence of Ashwin Cornelius. The three-year star was injured but has since slowly worked his way back to being fit enough to play.
Though Cornelius still isn't completely healthy, his appearance has given his club a much needed boost.
"(Ash) was still a leader on the sidelines during games and training, but he makes such a difference for us when he's out there, and when you have so many young players like we do, his ability to lead cannot be understated," Taylor said.
Wheeler has been a key figure in a rebuilt St. Viator back line, mentoring a unit comprised of Michael Duszynski, Mark Tun and Ethan Wolf, which can tackle and get forward with the best of them.
Junior Kevin Klingenberg helps anchor the midfield, while another junior, Nick Winter has provided much-needed size, pace and a knack for scoring big goals in support of Owens and Moore, who was named an all-stater.
"We're pretty hard on the boys throughout the season," said Taylor, "but they've responded to it all real well, and especially during the playoffs when we've been up against it against Lakes, then Harvard and Tuesday night with Moline. I am proud of their effort, and what they have accomplished thus far, and now (we'll) go forward and see what happens this weekend."
Peoria Notre Dame (20-2-2) vs. Wheaton Academy (21-6-0), 11 a.m.
Outlook: With all due respect to both St. Viator and Urbana, this is the marquee matchup of the opening round. Putting all of its flashy numbers, stats, and national ranking aside, PND is a quality side for sure, led by its big three of Alex Garcia (20g, 28a), Drew Whalen (34g, 23a) and Ben Fiddes (15g, 22), who were all freshmen on the '09 team which fell 1-0 to the Lions in the final.
Area fans had a chance to see PND in early September when it drew with both Schaumburg (3-3) and Fremd (1-1) during the Saxons Invite. PND coach Mike Bare uses the trip to measure his team against high-profile 3A clubs each year. PND is here for the fifth consecutive time after outscoring its opponents 118-19 this season.
Wheaton Academy impressed St. Viator coach Mike Taylor plenty after his club edged the Warriors 3-2 at the Mid-State Classic. He suggested the Warriors were easily one of the best teams he's seen all season long, quite a statement when considered how difficult a schedule St. Viator plays during the regular season.
The Irish will not see a more dynamic duo than Gareth Flynn (17g) and Grant Stoneman (28g, 18a). Either can change the course of a match with just one touch, while Marshall Weit and Casey Zimmerman, both of whom have bagged 13 goals, are more than ready to make a stamp on this highly anticipated in this breakfast special.
The Warriors have all the intangibles needed for success, and are a composed, organized club under Jeff Brooke, who brought the Warriors here in both '04 and '05.
-- Mike Garofola