Boys Soccer: Lincoln-Way East hopes rise under not-so-new coach
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media August 19, 2012 11:48PM
Alan Hernandez, a member of the soccer team at Lincoln-Way East, practices at the school in Frankfort. IL on Wednesday August 15, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Boys Soccer 2012
OTHER TOP TEAMS
Lemont: The Indians lost a good amount of talent from a sectional-winning 2011 squad, but should reload. Seniors Kyle Hamann and Ray Stieber lead a strong defense while Tommy Gasienica is a returning All-South Suburban Blue forward.
Plainfield Central: The six-time defending Southwest Prairie champion is the favorite in that league again, with senior goalkeeper Tyler Badertscher and senior defender Dan Rosenbaum leading the way, along with juniors Miguel Sanchez and Miguel Duran.
Lincoln-Way Central: A regional champion last season, the Knights have to overcome the loss of 2011 Herald News Player of the Year Conor Bartuch to graduation. Second-year coach Sean Fahey has plenty of returning talent to do so.
Joliet Central: The Steelmen look to follow up on a 2011 campaign that saw them finish second in the SouthWest Suburban Blue with a 5-1 record. Senior Eduardo Espinoza was an All-Conference selection last season.
Morris: A regional champion in 2011, the Redskins return a senior-laden defense and a host of talented attackers led by juniors Salvador Villanueva and Nestor Rodriguez. Sophomore Ricardo Del Toro is also dangerous.
Keep an eye on: Lockport, Minooka, Peotone, Plainfield North, Wilmington.
(in alphabetical order)
Tyler Badertscher, senior, goalie, Plainfield Central: The All-Southwest Prairie goalkeeper had eight shutouts in 2011.
Kyle Hamann, senior, defender, Lemont: Hamann anchored a defense that posted 19 shutouts in 2011.
Woijeck Iwan, senior, midfielder, Lockport: After scoring five goals last season, Iwan will be counted on to lead the Porters’ attack in 2012.
Hugo Lopez, junior, forward, Bolingbrook: An All-Southwest Suburban Blue pick last season, Lopez leads a young Raiders squad.
Tyler Petprachan, junior, midfielder, Plainfield North: After a breakout sophomore campaign, Petprachan will look to produce ever more for an up-and-coming Tigers team.
Jim Ralph, senior, defender, Lincoln-Way East: Ralph leads a defense intent on topping last season’s nine shutouts.
Salvador Villanueva, junior, midfielder, Morris: A multi-skilled player on the rise, Villanueva scored nine goals last season.
C.J. Zuraitis, senior, forward, Lincoln-Way Central: Zuraitis scored 17 goals last season in earning All-Sectional honors.
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:22AM
The 2011 season for Lincoln-Way East was one of extreme highs and lows.
The Griffins went 6-10-5 in the regular season and had to deal with a shocking change in leadership when longtime coach Brian Papa was fired 17 games into the year, reportedly due to a comment made about a Lincoln-Way Central player after a loss to the Knights.
Then, out of nowhere, East caught fire under interim coach Ryan Decker and upset its way to the program’s first sectional title. It took eventual state champion Morton to end the Griffins’ run, in the fourth overtime of a supersectional thriller.
“The difference was mentality,” said Decker, who no longer has “interim” in his job title. “It was that belief that we could beat someone. It happened in that Thornton game (a regional semifinal) in the wind and the rain when we found that overtime win.”
Now, belief seems to be permeating throughout the East program as the Griffins get set to start the 2012 season Tuesday against Brother Rice.
“Last year, the night of our first playoff game, we said ‘We play for each other or we don’t play at all,’ ” senior defender Jim Ralph said. “We just all came together as one and went on an amazing run.
“Now, we all say to each other every day, ‘We’re going to win state this year.’ It’s our motto.”
The Griffins expect to win from Day 1 this time around. And Decker, who was promoted from his assistant coach position after Papa’s dismissal, is ready to lead from Day 1.
“I think last year let me kind of work out some of the kinks, but it was trial by fire,” he said. “This year, starting in the summer and preseason, I laid the face of what I expected of the guys and they’ve done everything I’ve asked so I feel really good about the group.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Coach Decker is like my second father,” Ralph said. “He knows every strength and weakness of this team. He’s awesome.”
One of Decker’s focuses has been improving his team’s offense to complement a defense that was tough to crack last year, and should be again with Ralph leading the way and promising junior Sean McGovern taking over in goal.
Decker is expecting big offensive contributions from juniors Sean Sibley, Alan Hernandez and Kris Kirchoff and senior Seth Adams.
He’s also moved Mike Roth, previously a standout defender, to an attacking midfielder position.
“I got to adjust to it during summer league and that helped a lot,” Roth said. “It’s nice to really make a difference in the attack and getting a chance to score some goals is awesome.”
Decker is hoping for success to start a bit sooner this season.
“We made a good run in the postseason (last year), but we need to do better during the season,” he said. “Lincoln-Way East hasn’t won a conference title yet in soccer, so wouldn’t that be nice?”
His players are confident they can achieve Decker’s goals.
“Last year we went through a lot,” Hernandez said. “It made us more of a family. It brought us closer. We grew off that.
“This year we know we have the potential to have a great season and make it to state.”