Naperville North (25-1-1) vs. St. Charles North (16-2-4)
When/where: Friday, 7 p.m. at Hoffman Estates High School
Playoff history: The reigning Class 3A state champions have two overall as well as three fourth-place trophies. Naperville North posted a school-record 25 wins this season and breezed through regionals. The Huskies downed Metea Valley 2-0 and Naperville Central 1-0 in sectionals with a 1-0 win over Morton at supersectionals. "The boys have handled that pressure and those expectations incredibly well," Huskies coach Jim Konrad said of their title defense. "I couldn't be any prouder of the way they handled themselves this year and I'm thrilled to be back."
St. Charles North, with no state trophies, made the state series in 2006 when it consisted of eight teams and two classes. North won its own regional, beat Wheaton North 2-0 and Glenbard East 4-0 in sectionals and Jacobs 2-0 at home in supersectionals. "We've knocked down the door certainly multiple times," coach Eric Willson said. "For this to be our first Final Four, I think we're really proud of what we've accomplished at this point."
Outlook: These stingy defenses allowed 2 goals combined this postseason, those all from the North Stars, who gave up 15 all season. In contrast, Naperville North scored 80 and allowed 10 goals, 7 to teams in the state of Illinois. This is expected from a team that posted 19 shutouts to St. Charles North's 10. "That's something we build our program on," Konrad said. "We're in the IHSA record book a couple times for goals against over the years and this year especially with a bunch of guys back from last year's team."
Who might those be? Two-time all-state keeper Tommy Welch comes in with a goals allowed average of 0.42. Backliners Colin Iverson and Mitch Konrad enforce the middle with Cesar Recendez and Matt Bilardello on the wings. Will Ritzmann and Ethan Harvey serve as two holding mids. "We defend first and then worry about scoring second," Konrad said. "So far the recipe's worked; hopefully we can continue to be so fortunate."
The Huskies' restarts are their fortune as well and Iverson's 14 goals are the benefactor out of the back. Attacking mids Ian Guppy, who leads the team with 15 goals, Ty Konrad (9 goals, 10 assists) and forward Jack Barry, who moved to the midfield at midseason, has 11 goals and 21 assists. All pose major threats, especially Barry, who scored the game-winner against Barrington in last year's state final.
The North Stars present a similar style in their commitment to defending and you might see a low-scoring affair between these well-organized teams. "The cliché is what it is, defense wins championships," Willson said. "After that St. Charles East loss, we went back to the drawing board and recommitted to how we defend. From that game we have defended as a team much better, with much more intensity."
Goalie Piercarlo Ricossa (110 saves) allowed 16 goals in 19 games. Stout senior defender Peter Willis roams the back with Kyle Kolodziej, Alex Somera and senior captain Connor Bettini. Their effort Tuesday kept a lid on two of the state's best, Noah Melick (Wisconsin) and Colin Walsh. "We've been playing great and kind of have this brotherhood within the whole team, defending as a unit," Willis said after the Jacobs win. "We've all grown up and know how to play together. We just have a great chemistry." The Stars may present an unfamiliar offense, which can also get you on set pieces, as senior forward Jake Persenico leads the North attack with 16 goals and 8 assists. The speedy Bernard Elegbede is second with 12 goals and 5 assists and Matt Beaulieu has 5 goals and 7 assists.
Advancement: The winner plays the winner of Bradley-Bourbannais vs. Libertyville Saturday at 7 p.m.; losers plays for third place at 5 p.m.