Redhawks edge Lancers to claim third place finish
By Curt Herron
Troy Adams had a big smile on his face as he proudly talked about a group of six athletes who have done so many positive things for his program.
Likewise, Jay Tegge, Drake Swope, Sam Reskala, David Murphy, Ben Border and Devon Amoo-Mensah enjoyed the moment following their last game together.
The six Naperville Central players were being interviewed Saturday after their team had just captured a third-straight trophy at the Class 3A finals.
Following runner-up finishes in both 2011 and 2012, Central claimed the third place after beating Lake Park 2-1 to avenge one of its three defeats.
Although the Redhawks saw their hopes of a third-straight trip to the finals dashed by eventual champ Edwardsville, they were proud of their achievement.
After all, only seven other programs have been able to claim three straight trophies during the 42-year history of the IHSA's large-school tournament.
And just four (Granite City, Quincy Notre Dame, Collinsville and St. Charles East) have fared better and one equaled (Lincoln-Way Central) their 2-2-3 performance.
"I brought these six guys in here because as I joked to my children that I'd call them the 'Insidious Six', like the guys from Spider-Man, because they kind of got us going all of the time and kept us going," Adams said of the group.
"Before we left school today we said that obviously this isn't the time that we'd like to be playing but to be able to play as late as only eight teams in the state is a true joy.
"Throughout these three years the thing that I take away is the character that our team showed. I never had to worry about what they were going to do on the field. They held themselves with poise, some times more than their coach did."
Amoo-Mensah, Reskala, Swope and Tegge have the distinction of being the only players who competed on all three of the state-placing squads.
Before the run began, the program's lone state appearance came back in 1988, when coach John Paskvalich led a squad to a second-place showing.
These past three years have seen Central post 19-5, 23-2 and 19-3-2 marks for an impressive 61-10-2 record against some of the state's best.
So while the Redhawks were disappointed about seeing their title hopes dashed in the semifinals, they're quite proud of their accomplishments.
"We talked about ending our season on the highest note possible," Swope said. "We wanted to make sure that we didn't want our last high school game to end as a loss.
"The thing that I'll remember is how I enjoyed each team every year and this year, especially. No one expected us to be here but we got here again. It's just been a pleasure playing with these guys and it's just been a great time."
Seniors Brad Holland and Jake Stadelman and juniors Nick Coon, Sean Flading, Jordi Heeneman and Mitch McGuire have also been on the last two state squads.
Other seniors who were this year's third-place squad for Adams and assistant Mike Ortiz were Mike Senese, Niko Jano, Justin Geisler and Kenyata Coakley.
The rest of the squad included juniors Derek Kerbs, Joe Kallikaden, Daniel Poole, Ethan Mohr, Jordi McCormack, Noah Hey, Doug Hui and Riley Guttosch.
"It's been a pleasure playing with this group of guys up here, the rest of the seniors and just the whole team this past year," Amoo-Mensah said.
"And being a part of this for the last three years has been a great experience, as well and it was nice to end it with a win."
Connor Allen, Rahul Bhatia, Jack Burdett, Pat Flynn, Corey Halford, Jack Patrick, Mike Pavliga and Mike West were all on both the 2011 and 2012 teams.
Seniors such as Blake Beehler, Adam Hamielec, Kevin Lynne, Mike Plant and Sean Stevens helped start the run in 2011 when Central got hot in the playoffs.
After losing three of their last four matches in the regular season that year, Central rattled off six straight wins to advance to the state championship.
Highlighting the run was a 1-0 win over unbeaten Naperville North in the sectional finals and a wild 4-3 win on penalties over Fremd in the 3A semifinals.
Although the magic ended in the finals when Morton scored early in overtime to capture a 1-0 victory, the table was set for even bigger things in 2012.
Central only lost once in the regular season and edged Edwardsville 1-0 in the super-sectional and beat Stevenson 3-0 in the semifinals to get back to the finals.
But Warren stunned the Redhawks by scoring a goal early in overtime to capture a 2-1 victory, forcing Adams' squad to try to get back to state this season.
After losing so much talent from last year's squad, some had their doubts as to whether or not the Redhawks would be up to the challenge of another trip.
But a 13-2-2 regular season indicated otherwise and Central beat Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley in the sectional and then Morton in the super-sectional.
The table seemed to be set for another title appearance and a good shot at a title but Edwardsville dashed those hopes by rallying for a 3-1 semifinal win.
"I think that I would rather take second or third at state but play with this team than get first with any other team," Reskala said.
"This group of guys have made the experience unforgettable. We've really had some great seasons over the past three years."
It left Central playing for pride in the consolation match against Lake Park, who won 2-1 on October 5 to help it secure the DuPage Valley Conference title.
After Tegge scored in the 16th minute and Mike Catalano tied things in the 26th minute, it looked like the outcome might have to be determined on penalties.
But the Lancers were called for a foul in the box in the 77th minute and Tegge converted the subsequent penalty to cap the memorable season on a high note.
Winning the finale provided a little bit of payback for the Redhawks after the Lancers came on to their field and denied them a chance to win the DVC title.
"When we played Morton, we talked about getting revenge from two years ago," Tegge said. "Lake Park's a good team and when they came to our conference and went unbeaten in the first year, that was kind of upsetting since the newcomer got the title.
"We thought that we played a very good game against them in conference, but coming out here and playing well against them again and getting the 'W' really meant a lot for all of us, I think."
Few athletes get the opportunity to be a part of one state place-winning team, let alone two or three, so those involved understand what a special feat it is.
"I know that especially for the six seniors sitting up here that it's very rewarding to end your career on a win," said Border of the assembled group of half a dozen seniors. "All six of us have worked our tails off.
"And especially for the guys who have been here for the last three years like Jay, Devon, Drake and Sam. I know that it's been hard for them but they've shown great leadership on the field and really helped us to get to this point."