Seniors continue to battle for the Falcons
By Darryl Mellema
When Tim McEvilly prepared to get his Wheaton North team ready for Tuesday’s regular season finale with Glenbard North, there sat Nermin Isic – wearing the white shirt, white shorts and white socks that the Falcons wear at home.
Tuesday was Isic’s final home match, Senior Night, and after suffering a severe knee injury midseason, he wasn’t going to be able to play.
Or was he?
McEvilly looked at Isic and knew what he could do. The Falcons’ No. 11 was introduced as a starting player, participated in the kickoff – then was immediately substituted.
“I owe these seniors who had the courage to stick around,” McEvilly said. “Unfortunately for (Isic), he tore his ACL a third of the way through the season and he’s gone. He could have made a difference for us the rest of the way through the season.”
In his one minute of playing time, Isic nearly created an assist. He tapped the kickoff to Jackson Duncan, who fired a long pass up the right wing toward Nathan Atkinson, who hit a shot wide.
“I didn’t think about before I got here, but I came in and (Isic) had his uniform on, so I was like ‘all right,’” McEvilly said. “I thought ‘let’s give it a shot.’ (Glenbard North coach Gregg Koeller) was gracious enough to realize he would get a touch and then run off the field.”
The Falcons had significant moments where they stretched the Panthers, even took a lead for five minutes of the first half. But despite thrilling for much of the 80 minutes, Wheaton North fell 3-2 to Glenbard North.
“What you have to take away from a game at this point is where do you stack up heading into the next round of your season,” McEvilly said. “This is potentially a regional final matchup for us, if we can somehow get by Glenbard West. I truly believe we can compete with anybody.”
Counting Isic, Wheaton North (5-11-1. 2-4-1 DuPage Valley Conference) started six seniors in Tuesday’s match. Five of those starters – Duncan, Atkinson, Sam Beasley, Jeremy Stapleton and Alex Jiskra – played significant minutes in the contest. The other roster senior was Justin Strong.
“It’s a lot of pressure but it’s fun,” Stapleton said. “It motivates us but it’s a tough loss today. It’s nice to be on a team with these guys. Wheaton North is a great school and our team is getting better.”
This season marked McEvilly’s return to coaching the varsity boys’ team. None of this year’s senior class had worked with him, and McEvilly said he was proud of the efforts the Class of 2014 gave throughout the season – which continues Tuesday when the Falcons face Glenbard West at 6:30 p.m. in the Glenbard East Regional.
“It’s kind of tough to be at the end now, with this being my last year,” Stapleton said. “We’re looking forward to the playoffs and hopefully we’ll have a good run there.”
McEvilly said he had great respect for the seniors who opted to come out for this year’s team as the program seeks forward momentum.
“I’ve worked with some of the younger kids at the lower levels,” McEvilly said. “But I’ve never worked with any of these seniors. I didn’t know any of these kids. But they decided to stick it out and try to turn things around. I felt we played some awfully attractive soccer in this game, and tonight’s a perfect example of what we do well and what we don’t do well.”
Wheaton North created a series of chances in the first half, and those opportunities got better as the half progressed. Atkinson fed Jason Szumski midway through the half and Szumski redirected an attempted clearance by Glenbard North’s keeper barely wide.
As they continued to pressure, the Falcons were able to pressure when they received long throw-in opportunities or free kicks from which Zach Oslund was able to serve the ball into the penalty area.
From one of those long throw-ins, Wheaton North took the lead with 9:33 left in the opening half. Oslund’s throw-in moved through the penalty area, was poorly dealt with by Glenbard North and headed in at the far post by Szumski.
“Our restarts were really dangerous tonight and we didn’t really do anything with them,” McEvilly said. “We just kind of threw the ball into the box. When you can put the ball into dangerous situations and make plays due to physicality, that kind of ends up determining who ends up winning and losing those battles. (Oslund) did a great job with those restarts and throw-ins.”
The Falcons’ lead lasted five minutes before Mahmood Akif hit a dipping free kick from long range that dropped just under the crossbar to tie the match 1-1 – the score the teams maintained until halftime.
“It was nice to take the lead but it was tough when we lost the lead,” Stapleton said. “Hopefully we’ll get a lead and keep it in our next game in the playoffs.”
Glenbard North’s team speed was a challenge for Wheaton North throughout the match, and the transition from defense to offense became a factor in the second half. Christian Romero gave the Panthers the lead 14 minutes into the second half after he dribbled into the penalty area and shot from left-to-right.
The Panthers extended their lead with 10 minutes to play on a quick move from end-to-end of the field. Collecting the ball in his penalty area, keeper Nathan Chalus threw to Danny Ramirez, who raced up the right wing before passing further upfield and to the left wing to Romero, who moved the rest of the distance into the penalty area before sending a shot into the right side netting.
“It’s tough – they’re playing those balls over and sometimes we couldn’t keep up with them,” Stapleton said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can learn from that and get better.”
Even the first goal was one McEvilly said he felt his team could have defended better.
“When balls get over the top, these guys can beat anybody,” McEvilly said. “But those are two mistakes we should be experienced enough not to make. Even the first goal was on a restart that we weren’t really ready to have had played on goal. I’m disappointed that we gave up goals that we’ve done a good job of defending this year.”
Wheaton North still had a comeback to put into effect, and the Falcons narrowed the deficit to 3-2 when a long throw-in by Oslund was headed off the post and into the net by Dan Norton.