Boys soccer: Wheaton North, St. Charles East show their resilience
Wheaton North coach Robert Stassen asked his team what word it wanted on the back of its team T-shirts for the season.
"They said 'resilience,'" Stassen said following the Falcons' 1-1 draw with St. Charles East to close their season on Thursday.
"This team is one in a million. This is the reason you coach," Stassen said. "These guys have been with me now; they've all been with me for three years; two have been with me for four. They're the type of guys you can have a laugh with. You can have a cry with. You can have a serious conversation with."
Stassen's group took the COVID-19 shortened season -- and everything it encompassed -- in full stride.
"The respect that they have for each other [is strong] ...[they said] 'We're going to wear masks, we're going to run around. You know what, coach? We can do it. We've got it,'" Stassen continued. "Never once did I have to talk to one guy about pulling his mask up. [It's] just a group where I'd say most of these guys are 4.0 students and coming out here [and still competing]."
St. Charles East (12-3-3) took a 1-0 first half lead Thursday on junior Mason Blenner's first goal of the season with 24:11 left in the half, where it remained at the break.
Blenner, in his first varsity season, has made his biggest improvements in the season's final two weeks.
"I feel like with just two weeks left in a shortened season, it's important to finish strong," Blenner said. "And, just play the best that you can. I've been trying to up the work rate and stay with everybody else out here."
"It's been a great experience being up on varsity," Blenner continued. "Definitely a different level of play from last year when I was on JV and I've really enjoyed it. Scoring that goal kind of helps build confidence and [I] look forward to next season coming up soon."
The Falcons scored the tying goal nearly midway through the second half on Diego Evangelista's attempt past Saints goalie Tyler Benhart.
A few minutes later, the Saints had a legitimate scoring opportunity, but Falcons defender Kyle Schauer slid his outstretched leg along the goal line to prevent the chance going over in traffic. The Falcons later had two scoring chances at 13:36 and again at 4:51 left in the contest, but Benhart turned them away.
St. Charles East had its best chance of the half on a rush where Jacob Maslowski lifted a pass to the middle of the field, right toward Sebastian Carranza, who hustled for a header chance. But, Falcons goalie Samuel Wakeman matched the aggressive play for a running save in traffic with 2:15 remaining.
The Saints have one more game on the season, a nonconference matchup against Benet on April 17.
"I would say [this team has been] resilient," St. Charles East coach Vince DiNuzzo said. "Last year, they were able to get a season in. We had a tough end to our season. For them to be so optimistic and so positive during a season where there's really no end; there's no closure. You can say conference is something to play for, but we all know that these kids want to play a state playoff. That's the beauty of high school soccer."
"I appreciate the kids having an opportunity to play, but at the same time, it's kind of left an empty feeling for them [without a playoff]," DiNuzzo continued. "So, I respect their resiliency [and] their determination to put in the effort they have this whole season."
The Falcons finished the season 6-4-4, going 2-0-1 in the final three games of the season with victories over Lake Park and Geneva.