The most unpredictable state tournament found a way to produce two of the state semifinalists everybody expected to see.
Naperville Central and Warren started the year ranked No. 1 and No. 2. Both returned a strong nucleus of veteran, talented teams that had the first hand of playing in the final weekend. The Redhawks lost the 1-0 heartbreaker to Morton in last year’s Class 3A final at Lincoln-Way North.
In a wild two weeks that saw Morton and other highly-ranked programs such as Lyons and Palatine fail to survive the regionals, Naperville Central and Warren are the headliners for the state semifinals.
After the smoke cleared, Naperville Central (22-1) earned a return engagement to Frankfort with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Downstate power Edwardsville at the Normal Supersectional. Naperville Central advances to play Stevenson (18-4-1), which qualified for its first state final trip in school history with a 2-0 victory over Glenbrook North.
“It’s kind of a reality check,” Naperville Central star forward Pat Flynn said. “You’re not going to just walk through the state tournament and that anybody can be upset. The week of the regionals, we were happy that we played on a Saturday and after all the upsets, we realized we had to bring the energy.”
Flynn (29 goals, nine assists) has scored at least one goal in 19 of the Redhawks’ 23 games, and is the key reason they are 22-1. He forms a devastating 1-2 combination with star keeper Mike Pavliga, who has allowed just eight goals in 23 games and has posted 13 shutouts.
“The kids didn’t want to repeat that experience of walking off a state championship game in second,” Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. “That was their motivation to make sure they came into the season prepared. I’m sure Warren had the same feeling.”
The Patriots are led offensively by senior midfielder Michael Weinstein (10 goals, three assists). “At this point of the year, anybody you play is really good, and we’re going to rely on what we’ve done all year, and that’s our defense,” coach Mark Schnarter said. Quentin Low recorded a stunning 160 saves and allowed just eight goals. The team only gave up 12 goals in 23 games.
Stevenson and conference rival Warren split their two games this year. The Blue Devils (19-6-3) face Sandburg in the first semifinal. Star senior midfielder Daniel Szczepanek is the team’s offensive catalyst with 13 goals and 23 assists. Senior forward Auner Solis has a team-leading 22 goals.
The Eagles (18-5-3) feature a brilliant scoring tandem of their own with senior midfielder Zack Biel (24 goals, 14 assists) and senior forward Kevin Kroll (15 goals, 20 assists).