Top local teams: Benet, Hinsdale Central, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Wheaton Academy, Wheaton Warrenville South.
Top players: Angelo Amato (Addison Trail, sr., D), Casey Bucz (Waubonsie Valley, sr., F), Michael Carver (Wheaton Academy, jr., D), Gustavo Contreras (Lake Park, sr., D), Eric Diaz (Downers Grove South, jr., MF), Nate Donovan (Metea Valley, sr., MF), Chris Freeman (Metea Valley, sr., F), Noah Griffith (Waubonsie Valley, sr., MF/F), Geoff Horn (Naperville North, sr., D), Joe Keane (Lake Park, sr., MF), Kyle Kenagy (Benet, jr., F), Sam Knapke (Benet, sr., MF), CJ Koeller (Glenbard North, sr., F), Max Krohn (Hinsdale Central, sr., D), Paddy Lawler (Benet, sr., MF), Elias Leyva (Addison Trail, jr., MF), Jake Loncar (Neuqua Valley, sr., F), Christian Meyer (Hinsdale Central, sr., F), Jack Niestrom (Hinsdale Central, jr., MF), Xavi Ortiz (Neuqua Valley, jr., F), Zach Peterson (Naperville North, sr., F), Sam Reskala (Naperville Central, sr., F), Ryan Ross (Neuqua Valley, jr., F), Paul Selman (Glenbard West, sr., MF), Joey Spera (Wheaton Warrenville South, sr., D), Drake Swope (Naperville Central, sr., MF), Jay Tegge (Naperville Central, sr., MF), Casey Zimmerman (Wheaton Academy, sr., F).
Outlook: Naperville Central, the Class 3A runner-up the past two seasons, will need a collaborative effort on offense as Patrick Flynn, the 2012 Daily Herald All-Area Team Captain, graduated after scoring in 21 of 25 matches. "We lost some key players to graduation but return a talented group of attacking players," Redhawks coach Troy Adams said. Midfielders Jay Tegge, Drake Swope, Devon Amoo-Mensah and forwards Sam Reskala, David Murphy and Jordi Heeneman all have at least a year of varsity experience. "The back four will be new to varsity this year, along with the goalkeeper," Adams said. "How well we adapt to the speed of play at the varsity level will go a long way in determining our season."
Naperville North shared the DuPage Valley Conference title with the Redhawks a season ago and is coming off a solid 15-4-0 season. The Huskies welcome back seven starters, including seniors Zach Peterson, Geoff Horn and Alec Thompson. Christian Robert returns in goal, and Steve Goletz takes over coaching duties this fall. "We're going to have to find a way to replace (Joe) Sullivan's offensive output," Goletz said. "This will be an interesting year for Naperville North."
Look for immediate contributions from newcomers Wesley Wong and Eddie Graham at Wheaton Warrenville South, which had a nice finish last fall, winning a regional title before falling in the sectional semis to Metea Valley. "We have eight returning players," Tigers coach Guy Callipari said. "Our defense will return the greatest number of players and their experience will allow us to acclimate through the middle and offensive third of the field." The Tigers also are getting a nice boost from the addition of three Academy players. Seniors Mike Stelletello and Joey Spera will lead the defense, while the four sophomore newcomers should help out offensively.
Tim McEvilly takes over for Bryce Cann at Wheaton North. McEvilly last coached the boys team at Wheaton North in 2004. The Falcons have only won five matches in the past two years.
Glenbard North hopes to be in the mix in the DVC, despite a 1-3-3 mark last season. CJ Koeller and Hector Pineda are back for their third seasons, while the Panthers also welcome back several others and will look for contributions from a unique mix of newcomers, including sophomore goalkeeper Nathan Chalus and a trio of freshmen. "Our strength will be our depth at each position -- we are 2-3 deep across the field -- and also our experience," Panthers coach Gregg Koeller said. "Many of our returners saw extensive minutes last year at the varsity, and both our returners and our newcomers played on very competitive teams at very competitive levels in the off-season." Nearly 80 kids tried out for all levels of the Glenbard North soccer program, and the varsity squad will welcome seven underclassmen.
Lake Park is coming off a 9-12-2 season and entering a new conference, arguably the best soccer conference in the state in the DVC. The Lancers will now have to battle traditionally strong teams such as Naperville Central, Naperville North and Wheaton Warrenville South. Plus, they still have a very good old conference foe in St. Charles East on the schedule. The team lost 10 players to graduation but has some talent returning in forward Oliver Horgan, midfielders Kris Lopez and Kevin Coria, goalkeepers Steven Mack and Zach Czesak and their anchor in back with senior defender Gustavo Contreras.
Neuqua Valley was co-champion of the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division despite a modest 10-7-2 record. Most significantly, though, for the Wildcats was how they finished, only losing twice in their final 11 matches. "Last year with being the new coach the guys weren't as comfortable," Wildcats coach Skip Begley said. "I think they're much more comfortable now." The Wildcats graduated 17 players from last year's team so they'll certainly have a different appearance, at least personnel-wise. Jake Loncar, Ryan Ross and Xavi Ortiz return with experience. Loncar and Ross each had 7 goals last fall. Andrew Fadanelli takes over in goal. "We'll need strong performances from Fadanelli to anchor the defense early on as confidence is gained in the back," Begley said.
It hasn't taken long for the newest kid on the block, Metea Valley, to compete in the UEC. The Mustangs went 11-7-4 last year and advanced to their first sectional. They lost 12 seniors to graduation so they'll need some inexperienced players to step up. They have a proven scorer in senior Chris Freeman and two very good midfielders in Dakota Rowsey and Nate Donovan.
Waubonsie Valley will need to overcome quite a bit of experience this fall. The Warriors went 13-7-1 in 2012. "We are looking to improve from game to game, to make ourselves competitive as the year progresses and to develop and offensive and defensive consistency," Warriors coach Angelo DiBernardo said. Seniors Casey Bucz, John Chapman and Noah Griffith are back to lead the Warriors, while midfielders Jeff Ito and Jonathan Braun are new to the team.
West Chicago bid farewell to the DVC as well as several outstanding seniors, such as Diego Munoz and Daniel Hernandez, from last year's 14-win squad. This is the Wildcats' first season in the Upstate Eight Valley.
Coach Ryan Dini considers last year's AddisonTrail team to be one of the best at the school in 15 years. The Blazers went 14-6-1 last fall and will look to battle for a West Suburban Gold title after claiming second place last year. The Blazers welcome back five starters as well as junior center mid Elisa Leyva from the Chicago Fire Academy. Trey Smith, Angelo Amato, Daniel Krajewski and Cesar Chavez all have collected a lot of minutes in the past few years. "Our goal is to finish in the top the conference and to compete in every game we play," Dini said. "Our goal is to be flying high going into the state playoffs, win a regional and then see what happens in sectionals." One of the tougher schedules in the state should prepare the Blazers for the postseason.
Junior Eric Diaz is back to lead Downers Grove South. Seniors Jack Freko, Scott Holakovsky and Jordan Pawlicki bring back experience and veteran leadership for the Mustangs. "Tough early competition should be a great measurement as to how the Mustangs will fair in the conference and state tournament," Mustangs coach Jon Stapleton said.
Hinsdale South will rely on a strong back line with senior defenders Giancarlo Cianelli and Panayiotis Stamatoukos and goalkeeper Jose Moreno.
Hinsdale Central remains the team to beat in the West Suburban Silver. The Red Devils won 18 matches last year and advanced to a sectional championship before being eliminated. Senior forward Christian Meyer is as electrifying of a scorer as there is in the area. The team also returns experience in the midfield and back line so another conference title and lengthy state run are strong possibilities.
Glenbard West lost nine seniors to graduation from a successful 13-4 squad. The Hilltoppers return a mix of incoming seniors as well as some newcomers from the lower levels of the program.
Downers Grove North bid farewell to eight starting seniors but is hopeful that the experience gained from a trip to Holland in the off-season allows them to rebuild quicker than expected. Seniors Jake Mauer, Tony Zea, Andrew Zea and keeper Ray Grecco return. "Our young players will need to be dedicated to learning the game and playing at varsity speed," Trojans coach Brian Gervase said. "We are excited about our potential."
Benet lost East Suburban Catholic Conference MVP Brad Bozych and longtime standout goalie Kyle DalSanto, but the Redwings should still be very good coming off an 18-4-1 campaign. Look for Kyle Kenagy to move from outside defender to a target forward to create opportunities in the final third. Senior all-conference selections Sam Knapke and Paddy Lawler also return. "Sam will play a huge role in the middle controlling our defensive shape and starting our counterattacking style," Benet coach Sean Wesley said. "Paddy returns as a wide midfield player and second leading scorer from last year's team." What's perhaps the biggest question mark for the Redwings is whether or not their back line and goalkeeping can keep them in every game like they have in recent seasons."
Fenton had five freshmen in action last fall so there was a lot of experience gained. "We've still got a young group so far, but I'm optimistic," Bison coach David Alvarez said. "We have a few new freshmen again, but if we think they can contribute then they're going to be a part of the team." Fenton will have some upperclassmen in the mix, but Alvarez will give the most minutes to those who give the team the best chance of winning, so it's not a sure thing who the difference makers will be. "The best will play regardless of grade level," Alvarez said. Brothers Raul and Juan Ayala, Paul Plizga, Kevin Cortes, Michael Hriso and Jakub Slomkowski will lead the Bison.
Glenbard South fourth-year coach Melissa Pero will continue to try to elevate the Raiders program, which welcomes back 10 seniors. The Raiders opened their season in the Windy City Classic.
Coming off a fourth-place finish in Class 2A, Wheaton Academy should be very good again despite losing Grant Stoneman to the Magic and Adam Hunt and Gareth Flynn to high school diplomas. "The boys team has good depth this year and has the potential of playing more guys than in years past," Warriors coach Jeff Brooke said. "With three out of our returning starters in the back and the addition of center back Michael Carver (Chicago Fire), the Warriors should be tough to score on." Seniors Sam Hardy, Zeb Lewis, Marshall West and Casey Zimmerman give the team a great core of talented leaders.
St. Francis will try to forget about the injuries and illnesses that plagued the team at the end of last year's roller-coaster ride of an 11-11 campaign. It won't be difficult for some Spartans to forget because 13 players graduated from that squad.
In Class 1A both Lisle and Timothy Christian should be competitive. The teams opened up against each other and Timothy Christian won convincingly 4-0.