Metea's run comes to an end vs. Naperville Central
By Chris Walker
Great programs, regardless of the sport, find ways to win and win repeatedly.
That’s been the case at Naperville Central, which nearly won state titles the past two years and could be en route to competing for one again this fall.
The Redhawks, who were deemed the home team by seed, traveled into enemy territory on Saturday night, facing the host Mustangs in the Class 3A Metea Valley sectional championship at 7 p.m.
Three different players blistered kicks into the back of the net and the Redhawks topped the Mustangs 3-0 to win their seventh regional championship in eight years.
“I think we dominated them as much as could and were able to limit their shot attempts,” Redhawks junior defender Nick Coon said. “We did what we needed to do.”
In addition to typical fieldwork during practice, time reviewing film in the classroom apparently was a huge difference-maker for the winners, especially the defensive unit.
“During film we saw how their midfielders would always push it up and in my position as a center-defensive mid I knew I had to drop back and adjust and be a kind of stopper,” Coon said. “They had an idea of what they wanted to do and had a lot of success doing it so I made adjustments because I knew of their success against St. Charles East and Marmion.”
Naperville Central (15-2-2) hasn’t been the cream of the crop in the area by chance. It’s because the Redhawks know how to play the game correctly, plus they generally receive great new talent every year, which is polished by coach Troy Adams.
In fact, the Redhawks practiced on Saturday morning without Adams, as the senior captains put the practice together in preparation for the Mustangs.
“The captains actually had a team practice without me this morning, which they said they wanted to do to get everybody ready,” Adams said. “Whatever they worked on this morning worked, although they could’ve maybe spent more time on finishing.”
Not many teams have such great leadership from 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds like the Redhawks, and such guidance has correlated with tremendous success in the hotbed of Illinois high school soccer.
“When you talk about the value of high school sports and learning those leadership skills on the field, sports are second to none compared to other places in that you get a leader-like person, and there have been some great ones here, and it perpetuates,” Adams said. “We have a great set of seniors and they’ve set a precedent and hopefully the next groups sees it and follows it because we have a tremendous senior class which has really led by example and actions.”
After a barrage of shots in the opening 10 minutes or so tested the Mustangs, but did nothing to alter the 0-0 on the scoreboard, the Redhawks finally saw their aggressive attack pay off with 25:21 left in the first half when Ben Border’s header redirected a pass into the left corner of the net.
It would prove to be all that the Redhawks would need.
“That was very big of Ben and obviously we don’t have (Pat) Flynn anymore and that’s something everyone talks about because he was such a dangerous player,” Naperville Central senior Jay Tegge said. “We’re still scoring a lot of goals this year, but it’s a bunch of guys.”
Regardless of the stage, the Redhawks seem to be poised to always move on, even when a bad play, questionable call or poor luck could ultimately cost them their season at their juncture. But nothing changed Saturday’s overall outcome.
“Adams really does a nice job of bringing up younger guys and getting them ready for big games like this,” Tegge said. “Now that we’re seniors and been a part of that, it’s our job to keep everyone calm. Before us, the leaders kept us calm, now we’re doing it, and it’s huge.”
Despite being out-possessed and not threatening to score the equalizer in the first half, Metea Valley still only trailed 1-0 at the half. So while the momentum was on the other bench, the Mustangs knew they were still one big play away from the game being 1-1.
“They came out and really just put a lot of pressure on us and got it to 1-0 at the half,” Metea Valley coach Josh Robinson said. “We thought we could come out in the second half and do better but it was just difficult because we weren’t as composed as we needed to be today.”
Thoughts of an equalizer faded just minutes into the second half when Devon Amoo-Mensah put the Redhawks ahead 2-0. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly, Amoo-Mensah has gone from a talented player plagued by injuries to an all-state selection this fall.
Finally feeling close to 100 percent this season, Amoo-Menasah’s athleticism is second to none and he was dominant on Saturday.
“I won’t lie about it because injuries hurt me in trying to play my game,” Amoo-Mensah said. “Being healthy has now allowed me to be a leader on and off the field.”
Some of the off the field stuff came after Tuesday’s, 3-1, regional semifinal win against West Chicago. While the Redhawks prevailed, they weren’t necessarily satisfied.
“It wasn’t the outcome we’re used to and we know that if we don’t play our best that it could be over,” Amoo-Mensah said. “So we got the guys together to make sure we would work our hardest and be focused.”
David Murphy put an exclamation on the contest with the evening’s prettiest goal, blasting a 30-yard shot just into the corner of the net at the 30:04 mark of the second half for a 3-0 advantage.
“All year long we’ve been talking about keeping it low and hard and since their keeper is very good I tried to keep it low,” Murphy said. “We knew this was a dangerous team so we wanted to do whatever we could to get ahead early and keep their heads down.”
Metea Valley (10-8-3) might’ve had their heads hanging low after the loss and some tears may have been shed, but that’s to be expected after a great season comes to an end.
The Mustangs record might not have been eye-popping but their overall results were. They won a conference title, gave St. Charles East its lone loss so far in the UEC crossover championship and advanced to another regional title.
“Give credit to Naperville Central. They were flying around and kept their foot on the pedal,” Robinson said. “They continue to do that and it builds confidence in the program and they’re successful in these big games.”
Robinson knows how difficult it is to win a regional title, especially in the Naperville area with arguably the most competitive teams in the state jammed into the local sectional.
“No disrespect to the rest of the state, but we’re in a hotbed here and you get a feather in your hat for winning a regional, both on the boys and girls side,” he said. “Good teams go home very early in the playoffs here because it’s such high quality soccer. It makes it fun, but it makes it awfully tough too.”
A good team went home after Saturday’s game, and one of the best programs advances.
Naperville Central will clash with Neuqua Valley, a neighboring school in one of Tuesday’s two sectional semifinals at Metea Valley.
“I’ve never played Neuqua ever, but I know they have some dangerous players,” Tegge said. “I’m sure we’ll get plenty of info on them before we play. If we can play our game like we want to, it should be a good one.”