The road to Hoffman Estates has begun in the Fox Valley as local boys soccer teams in Class 2A and 3A begin their quest for a respective IHSA state championship.
The last team to earn a state bid was Bartlett in 2015. The Hawks, led by then head coach Vince DiNuzzo, finished fourth. DiNuzzo, now at St. Charles East, was also an assistant on the 2014 Streamwood squad that finished fourth that season.
The last time a Fox Valley team played for the state title came in 1996 when St. Charles defeated Collinsville for its second-straight tile and back-to-back 28-0 seasons. Can anyone make history this season and be the first in 20 years to play the final game of the year?
In the Class 3A Conant sectional, No. 1 St. Charles North (11-2-4) is the proverbial favorite and seeks its first sectional title since 2008. The PepsiCo champs, led by senior defender Peter Willis, senior forwards Jake Persenico (11 goals, 5 assists) and Bernard Elegbede (8 goals, 4 assists) begin that quest at home on their new turf hosting regionals against No. 17 Willowbrook Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. North has gone 2-1-1 since beating Waukegan in PKs for the Pepsi title but a game that raises the eyebrow in that stretch is a 3-0 loss to rival St. Charles East on September 26, which cost the North Stars a shot at the Upstate Eight River title.
North can get its revenge against No. 7 East in the final, if the Saints oust No. 9 Benet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at North. But this isn't the same Saints squad that started out 2-7-4. Di Nuzzo's squad has flipped the script and looked more like typical East, going 5-2 to finish the season. What's the reason?
"We've really come together at the right time, we're healthy finally," Di Nuzzo said. "The biggest thing for us is getting used to each other -- from the coaching staff to the players to play within a system they understand. Everybody has responsibilities and they're very aware of what those are now. They're accepting their roles and we haven't been healthy, it's as simple as that."
If either St. Charles teams are to advance to sectionals, likely opponents No. 4 Glenbard West and No. 5 Conant will await at Conant if seedings hold.
The Streamwood sectional is certainly a doozy and if you get out alive you may deserve an additional medal the gauntlet it possesses.
No. 1 Dundee-Crown only has 2 blemishes this season. At 17-0-2, the Chargers have rightly shown their frustration with last year's 1-0 sectional loss to Guilford in Huntley by going undefeated in this year's regular season with a Fox Valley Conference championship to boot. Led by Michigan State-bound forward Julian Ajroja (13 goals, 12 assists), Eric Martinez (6 goals, 2 assists) and Dylan Smiech (8 shutouts), No. 16 CL Central, whom the Chargers beat 2-0 on October 2, will have its hands full at the Rockford Auburn regional Tuesday night at 5 p.m. with the mindset D-C's been in since last October and the momentum it has coming off a rain-soaked win against Jacobs.
"It was a nice way to end the (regular) season, especially with the streak we had going," D-C coach Rey Vargas said. "There was a lot of pressure not to lose when you take it that far."
That win certainly felt like a playoff game with not only the FVC but the Hononegah Indian Cup plus D-300 bragging rights on the line. But it's been a playoff atmosphere from the get-go with this group, which got off to a fast start. "Right from the beginning we clicked whereas last year's team it took a while for it to gel. And we went on a nice run," Vargas added. "We're just itching to get going and they're excited and they're up for the challenge."
Waiting for D-C in the final could be No. 8 CL South led by Nikolas Getzinger's 11 goals and 4 assists. South is no slouch and could provide a lot of drama for the Chargers if the Gators (10-10-2) slide past No. 9 DeKalb. CL South almost upset the Chargers on September 19, a 2-1 D-C win in the 94th minute of overtime on Roland Dearborn's goal.
The odds of the Auburn regional winner playing a FVC foe at Streamwood are likely, as 3 of the 4 teams at the Huntley regional know each other too well due to conference play.
No. 4 Jacobs begins defense of last year's sectional title against No. 13 Cary-Grove at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Waiting will be either No. 12 Huntley or No. 5 Larkin, who play Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Jacobs has seen its ups and downs this year but would certainly like to get back to supersectionals. "One of the points we keep stressing is that if we can control the things we can control we have a shot to go on another good run," said Golden Eagles coach Anthony Cappello said, who has one of the most lethal duos in the state with Colin Walsh (21 goals, 24 assists) and 2-time Daily Herald All-Area captain, Wisconsin-bound Noah Melick (25 goals and 14 assists). And now they'll have Huntley's turf to really ratchet things up. "Outside of one game, some of our best performances were on turf this year," Cappello added. "Three or four years ago I don't know if we would've preferred it but this year and this time of year and the game we play, I think we're excited to get a regional on turf."
In Hampshire, No. 2 Elgin, led by striker Omar Lopez, looks to extend one of its best seasons in program history. The Maroons, who raced out to a 14-2-3 record, took home the Upstate Eight River title last Tuesday in a 1-1 tie to Streamwood. Elgin plays No. 15 Rockford Jefferson Tuesday at 5 p.m. while host No. 11 Hampshire plays No. 7 McHenry at 7 p.m. Elgin has a 4-0 win in its pocket against the Whip-Purs from August 29 plus wins against St. Charles East, Larkin and Geneva as well as a tie against Dundee-Crown. The Maroons are looking for postseason success after losing back-to-back regional championships to Jacobs.
No. 3 Streamwood, led by Aldo Lazaro (12 goals, 2 assists) and goalkeeper Daniel Dominguez (7 shutouts) trek to Rockford Guilford Tuesday against No. 14 Hononegah at 4:30 p.m. At one point Streamwood won 6 straight and the Sabres have wins over Conant, Lyons and Geneva. A likely Saturday opponent in its way of playing host to sectionals at Millennium Field and beyond would be either No. 6 Guilford or No. 10 South Elgin, teams that play in the 6:30 p.m. slot.
In the Naperville North sectional, No. 17 Batavia takes on No. 1 Naperville North at 4:30 Tuesday in Lockport. If seeds hold for North, you enter the UEC Valley champs, No. 4 West Aurora in the sectional semifinal. The Blackhawks need to get by No. 13 Waubonsie Valley at the East Aurora regional Tuesday at 5 p.m. The Blackhawks (16-3-2) came back from a 1-0 halftime deficit 2 weeks ago against Bartlett to score 2 second half goals for the title. West will likely play No. 5 Metea Valley in the regional final Friday. Andy Emile leads West Aurora with 15 goals and 3 assists while Patience Yuha has 9 goals and 10 assists on the season.
Geneva's draw couldn't have been more mind-boggling, getting a No. 11 seed, which resulted placement in the Plainfield North regional. They take on No. 6 Oswego Wednesday at 7 p.m. and if seeding prevails the Vikings (10-5-3) will play No. 3 Plainfield Central Friday. Led by Eric Anderson (13 goals and 4 assists) and Jeffrey Bode's 5 shutouts, Geneva's knocked off teams like West Aurora but its bracket half also includes No. 2 Naperville Central and No. 7 Oswego East.
At the Class 2A Kaneland regional, things couldn't be any better for the host Knights. Fresh off their first Northern Illinois Big 12 East conference title, the No. 2 Knights take on No. 10 Marmion Wednesday at 4 p.m. Marmion upset No. 7 Burlington Central on Friday 2-0.
"For us, this is a major thing. We said congratulations to the boys but now the real season starts," said head coach Scott Parillo, who saw Tuesday's match moved back to Wednesday after Kaneland's field flooded due to the weekend rains.
The Knights (13-3-3) have hosted regionals just 3 times in 16 years, but have home cooking now behind a team led by Tucker Jahns' 23 goals and John McCaffrey's dominant play in the midfield. Since starting 1-3-1, Kaneland is 12-0-2 in its last 14 games after losing to Sycamore. "It just started clicking once we got to Wisconsin," Parillo said. "We went up (to the Wisconsin Dells tournament) and we always seem to play better once we get back from our overnights and we went 4-0 in (the Milton) tournament and haven't lost since."
Marmion or Kaneland will play the winner of No. 3 Sterling vs. No. 6 Rochelle for a regional title on Saturday.