Saints hopes dashed by Lancers in sectional finals
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By Curt Herron
When a squad sets its sights on reaching a certain goal and then falls just short of it, there will naturally be disappointment.
Such was the story for St. Charles East after it came up a bit shy of reaching its goal of competing on the final weekend of the season.
The Saints were one of the top squads in the state throughout the year, as was evidenced by them going unbeaten through their first 21 matches.
But East ran into another one of the state's top squads, Lake Park, with the Class 3A Schaumburg Sectional championship on the line on Saturday.
Coach Paul Jennison's program was hoping to win consecutive sectional titles for the first time since the Saints pulled off the feat from 1999-2001.
By achieving that, the Saints would be assured of another super-sectional appearance. A year ago, they fell in that round to eventual champion Warren.
But the Lancers were also focused on making some history. In their case, that was capturing a sectional championship for the first time in 20 years.
However, there was another factor that couldn't be discounted when considering the matchup between the Saints and Lancers on Saturday.
And that was an early season meeting between the pair in which East claimed a 5-1 victory over Lake Park in Roselle on September 10.
Much has changed for coach Tony Passi's squad since that time, though, as a squad that was 3-1-2 after that loss went 16-1-1 prior to the rematch.
Included in that stretch was a perfect 7-0 run through the DuPage Valley Conference, an impressive debut in the league for the Lancers.
Not surprisingly, Lake Park was inspired for this second meeting of the two squads, and that was fairly obvious from the outset.
All-Stater Mike Catalano challenged keeper Chris Lucatorto early on and All-Stater Kevin Heinrich had to clear another of his attempts.
Lucatorto made a nice save on a long liner by Catalano early in the final half, which ultimately set the table for the match's lone score.
On the subsequent corner kick, Joe Keane sent a ball to Oliver Horgan, who connected to give Lake Park the only goal that it would need.
Zach Manibog and Daniel DiLeonardi had good chances in the late going but keeper Steven Mack denied everything that came his way.
As the final seconds ticked off, the Lancers celebrated while the Saints sat in disbelief as it sank in that their season was over.
The Saints finished with a 20-2-4 record to give them an impressive mark of 40-5-5 during the past two campaigns.
But falling short of another state trip and not performing at their best in their final match obscured much of the other successes.
"You put in all of the hard work for the big show and when you get to the show, you have to produce," Jennison said. "It's hard because these guys are capable of being the best team in state.
"But unfortunately, we didn't belong on the same field with them today. They outworked us, they outbattled us and they had more desire for every second ball.
"At the end of the day, the best team walked off as winners today. Tony's lads have been fired up. Credit to Lake Park. As far as I'm concerned, the team that wanted it more tonight won."
The Saints not only won the Upstate Eight Conference River title but also won championships in their invite and at the Gateway City Classic.
They overcame the loss of All-Stater T.C. Hull to become one of the state's best teams and were regarded as a real threat to win it all.
With senior captains Andrew Shone, Jacob Sterling and Heinrich leading the way, it looked like East might reach state for the first time since 1997.
Instead, Lake Park moved a step closer to making not only its first-ever state appearance but also its initial state trophy for a top-four finish.
"We can't really have any complaints, it's not like we were the team that dominated and they packed it in and defended for their lives," Jennison said.
"The most frustrating part is that we didn't even have 10 minutes where we were in complete control. I could go through a million different reasons why it didn't work, but it didn't.
"There's many coaches in the same position as me right now who are scratching their heads and aren't sure why it went down the way that it did, but it is what it is."
Despite the disappointment of seeing things end earlier than they anticipated, the Saints still have much to be proud of from the 2013 season.
And with a number of talented performers expected back for next year, East should once again be in a position to contend with the state's best.
"I'm proud of them, I really am, they're a great group of kids and I know that they're going to go on and do great things," Jennison said.
"We're still stacked with our underclassmen and our juniors. Don't get me wrong, we're going to be bringing back a lot. I know that they'll learn from it."