Blackhawks' 7-game winning streak snapped by Lancers
By Gary Larsen
Lake Park’s soccer program planted its flag in the DuPage Valley Conference in a big way on Tuesday.
The Lancers posted the school’s first DVC title in any sport with a 4-0 win over West Aurora, completing a perfect 7-0 record in their first year in the conference.
"We saw Naperville Central, back-to-back state runners-up, and two years ago Naperville North had a fantastic team. We saw how good those teams were and we came in prepared for it," Lancers senior Joe Keane said. "We're just proud of everyone on the team right now."
Lancers coach Tony Passi wasn’t quite ready to comment on the accomplishment. “I need 24 hours to let it sink in,” he said.
Lake Park played its final season in the Upstate Eight Conference last year, while visiting West Aurora will leave the DVC after this year and join the UEC for the 2014-2015 season.
And after Lake Park’s Mike Catalano netted two goals and the Lancers got one apiece from Keane and Oliver Horgan, Blackhawks coach Joe Sustersic was impressed with the team that snapped his side’s 7-game winning streak.
"First of all, (Catalano) is a monster,” he said. “He had two goals and an assist and he could have had a few other ones. He's a man among boys, plays mature, and plays skilled. What I'm impressed with is that he's not worried about setting his own play up. He's more worried about getting his teammates involved.
"Add a player like Keane and a target up front like (Oliver Horgan), and they're a very good team."
Tuesday’s outcome was born in a 30-second span just four minutes into the game. Keane chipped a ball over West Aurora keeper Alex Guillen for a goal and Kris Lopez crossed a ball from the left side to Horgan a half-minute later, with Horgan winning a fight for the ball and finishing from 6 yards out.
Outside mid Lopez took people on and sent dangerous balls in throughout the game’s opening 20 minutes.
“Those two goals made a statement and gave us confidence to keep going (forward), and after that we were possessing more,” Lopez said.
From there, Lake Park (14-2-3, 7-0) used a clear size advantage to great effect against West Aurora (11-6-3, 2-5), in a physical game from start to finish.
"It's a difference in size so it's difficult when the game isn't being called tight," Sustersic said. "That hurts our chances. Maybe a different referee that calls the game tighter changes things, but we can't use that as an excuse. They outplayed us and knocked us out in the first round with those two goals in the first five minutes.
"We have to get ready because this is how tough it's going to be in the state tournament.”
A Lake Park backline that featured Gustavo Contreras, Riker Tithof-Steere, Anthony Devereux, and Carlos Torres posted its 10 shutout of the season in front of keepers Steven Mack and Zach Czesak.
And the Lancers were physical with the Blackhawks all over the field.
"Like coach (Passi) always tells us, the more physical team ends up winning," Torres said. "And most teams in the DVC have that long-ball play, so the way we play is to always have one guy cover, and I feel like that's been effective. We have confidence in both of our keepers, too. They both bring out the best in us as a defense."
After Lake Park grabbed an early 2-0 lead, Mack elevated to snare a shot from distance taken by West Aurora’s Steve Rivera at the 5-minute mark. Keane ran onto a Lopez serve to the near post at 11 minutes but sent it wide, and Lopez sent in another quality serve at 20 minutes that came up empty.
Mack left his line and won a challenge in the air with the Blackhawks’ Christian Martinez at 25 minutes and Lopez hustled after a ball to the endline on the left side and earned a corner kick a minute later.
A Catalano head-shot goal was waved off on a foul called at 28 minutes, and the Wisconsin-bound senior headed another shot just wide of frame at 37 minutes before forcing Guillen to make a diving save on a shot taken from distance, just before the halftime buzzer sounded.
Catalano scored on two head-shot goals in the second half, giving him 20 goals on the year, on assists from Keane and Lorenzo Mariani. Keane now has 7 goals and a team-leading 10 assists this season.
Catalano's play at midfield was even more impressive than his ability to finish on Tuesday.
"What's great about Mike is that he'll receive the ball and for that big switch, he'll find a gap, he'll find a hole, get the ball behind the defense, and now we're attacking," Passi said. "He's so dangerous.
"And I think Joe Keane, an all-section player, played like an all-stater tonight. Joe's an awesome player and I can't believe how good he was tonight. His touch, his vision, everything. He was so solid."
Passi was also pleased with Horgan’s play up top in his first game back since an injury suffered on Sept. 29, along with the play of Lopez and Mariani on the outside, and the way his backline and goalkeepers kept danger to a minimum throughout the contest.
The Lancers play at Fenton on Thursday before traveling to Freeport on Saturday for their final game of the regular season. They open the postseason as the No. 2 seed of this year’s Class 3A Schaumburg Sectional, and open regional play on Oct. 22 against the winner between Willowbrook and Bartlett.
As the 12th seed of this year’s Class 3A Metea Valley Sectional, West Aurora opens regional play on Oct. 22 against No. 6 regional host Waubonsie Valley.
After 13 seasons of coaching in the DVC, Sustersic coached his last game in the conference on Tuesday. Afterwards, the veteran coach had plenty to say about his time spent coaching in the DVC.
“I’ve coached in the DVC since 2001 and I’ve developed some nice friendships with a lot of coaches,” he said. “It’s sad to see it coming to an end.
“Bryce Cann, Josh Adler, Steve Brugmann, Guy Callipari, Marco Parducci, Art Alvarado, Jay and Jim Konrad – these are all coaches that have coached in the conference and I’ve created a lot of connections with those coaches. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for a coach like Guy Callipari.
“There were never any days off in the DVC. We went something like three and a half years where every game was decided by a single goal – something like 25 games in a row. It’s very competitive and it prepares you for the state, and I think in my 13 years every team in the conference made at least one run to the Sweet Sixteen.
“There’s nothing wrong with change but I’ll miss playing in the conference.”