Labbato gets record win as Lions blank Argonauts
By Curt Herron
It's pretty safe to say that Paul Labbato is well aware of just about everything that's going on inside of his Lyons Township program.
But the Lions coach was caught by surprise on Thursday when he seemed to be about the only person not familiar with what was happening.
And what was happening at West field in LaGrange was some noteworthy history involving LT and pertaining to Labbato in particular.
The seventh-year coach was informed afterward that he had just become the winningest Lions coach after picking up his 130th victory.
Labbato's record of 130-25-12 since taking over from Alex Hernandez in 2007 moves him past Greg Beste, who won 129 matches from 1979-1989.
Following their 4-0 win over Argo in the regular season finale, Labbato and the Lions posed for pictures with a '130' sign proudly displayed.
LT's 81 percent winning rate under the tutelage of Labbato and assistant Kelly Neidig is impressive due to the tough schedule the team plays.
Not surprisingly, the humble coach gave credit for the special accomplishment to many different individuals from throughout the community.
"I really didn't know that it was happening this year," Labbato said. "I love the fact that everyone knew but me. I'm really proud of the boys since we've had a really tough schedule this year.
"I've said it before, that the parents in this community support soccer and they drag their kids from very young ages all over to make them better players and we are the recipients of having great soccer players.
"We're just fortunate to put them in the right spaces and build some chemistry. And we make sure that we put kids in spots where they succeed and we've been fortunate enough that they've been able to do that."
Labbato realizes that the program's past success, highlighted by the 2009 Class 3A championship, is the fuel that keeps the fire burning.
"Some times a program just gets on a roll and kids who are coming up believe that it's their turn to be great," Labbato said. "It kinds of builds on itself and we're kind of there to just push it along in the right direction.
"It's been seven years of a lot of wins and fun games and playoff runs that end in crying and playoff runs that end in happiness. We've run the gamut of early exits to going all of the way.
"Boys that are sophomores and freshmen and even those in seventh and eighth grade have seen what we're doing and they know that they want to be a part of something. Then they come here and work hard and do a great job for us."
This year's Lions improved to 14-2-3 after defeating the Argonauts, who they'll see again on Tuesday when they host their own regional.
As has been the case for the past few matches, Labbato got the chance to play everyone as LT gets ready for postseason competition.
Four of the seniors who stepped onto the field on Thursday have been three-year performers for the Labbato/Neidig coaching tandem.
Pearman Clarke, Emilio Godinez, Spiro Kass and Frankie Kocimski have enjoyed playing at LT and hope to finish up on a high note.
"Coach has built this program up quite a lot," Clarke said. "The coaches before him did great, but if you look at his record, it's incredible.
"This is a program that carries weight and I'm very glad to be a part of that. He's helped to mold this team and definitely given us a chance to succeed. He's done everything that he possibly can to help us.
"I'm feeling great about where we're at. We had a little rough patch in the middle of the season but I think that we're really hitting our stride going into the playoffs."
"This has been a great three years of my soccer career," Godinez said. "I've really enjoyed every year and I think that it's gotten better every year, too.
"Everything works together and the coaches have done a great job. We enjoy playing and at the same time we get work done. They always had us keeping our heads up through thick and thin and never gave up on us.
"I'm feeling confident about things. I definitely think that we have what it takes to make it far in the playoffs. As long as we apply ourselves, I think that we can make it far."
Those four seniors are hoping to help their team do something that the program last achieved in 2010, which is to win a sectional title.
"Coach has clearly shown over the past few years that he has what it takes to help us make a deep run in the playoffs," Kass said. "I feel like it's his ability to get the best out of his players.
"We obviously have a lot of good players but it takes a good coach to be able to manage all of them together. And I feel that he does a really good job of doing that.
"A lot of our seniors have been playing together for seven or eight years in club and high school, so we basically know each other well. We have a good chemistry throughout our whole team and that's why I think we can make a deep run in the playoffs."
"He's a great coach, obviously, with 130 wins, which makes him the winningest coach in the history of LT," Kocimski said. "From that all, you can tell all of the stuff and off the field that he does to make this team what it is.
"He always tells us that games are about moments, and you have to pick and choose your moments. He's definitely trained us well enough to pick and choose our moments and that's one of the reasons that we've been successful.
"We're doing really well this season and he sees that we can make a run in the playoffs. We have the work ethic and the talent and with a great coach I think all of the pieces are there, we just have to put them into place."
As for Thursday's match, the Lions scored a pair of goals in each half to helped them finish the regular season with seven straight wins.
In the early going, Cole Gilchrist was denied on a pair of attempts while Cristian Sanchez and Michael Andrews also were thwarted.
LT connected for the first time in the 27th minute when Sanchez sent a cross to Andrews, who headed the ball in from close-range.
And then in the 30th minute, LT added to its lead when Harry Hilling put in a short attempt to make it 2-0 heading into the break.
After Godinez had a pair of tries turned away in the early stages of the final half, Kocimski drove in for a score in the 44th minute.
Kocimski, Matt Murphy and Patrick Duncan all had shots that were hauled in by the Argonauts keeper during the next 20 minutes of play.
Shortly before play was stopped early on the hectic afternoon, Shunsuke Fujii connected in the 70th minute to wrap up the scoring.
Nick Jumic faced few threats in goal for LT, which posted its ninth shutout of the season and the fifth in its last seven matches.
After seeing his squad miss out on a sectional trip last season, Labbato hopes that this year's squad has what it takes to go far.
"We are as talented as any team that's out there and we've proven that, for the most part, over the entire season by playing the teams that we've played," Labbato said.
"With a little bit of a run, a little confidence and a little bit of luck here and there and any one of these teams can find themselves going all the way.
"And there's no reason why Lyons Township can't be one of those teams."