In the words of Evanston head coach Franz Calixte, the Wildkits lost some “serious talent” to graduation last spring.
But the Wildkits also return some serious talent and are primed to make a serious run at the school’s first boys Illinois High School Association soccer state championship.
Hard as it is to believe that the Kits could be better than a year ago — when they only lost two games — Calixte says his current crop of players is even more determined to end that championship drought.
But before you can include ETHS on the short list of Class 3A state contenders, the chemistry experiment involving the 12 seniors and 7 juniors on the varsity roster will have to be a success.
“The pre-season has been great, and we’ve been working hard. But it’s hard for me to guess how good we’re going to be this season,” said Calixte prior to Monday’s season opener against Wheeling in the annual Mid-Suburban League-Central Suburban League Challenge. “Every player brings something to the table and it will be tough to find a starting lineup. They’re all pushing each other, they’re all selfless and really motivated. They all believe in themselves, and they all believe this is the year they can get Downstate.
“We do have the talent, but nothing is given to you. And only 11 of them can play at the same time. Once we figure out their roles, once we find a regular rotation, they have to stay positive and stay ready to play even if they think they should be starting. That’s the tricky part, because they can’t all be on the field at the same time. It will take some time to cement those roles and for them to think team first.
“We’d love to win a state championship and have a banner up there in Memorial Stadium. I think it’s overdue.”
Five key players who helped Evanston post an overall 17-2-5 record last year, including a CSL South division championship, have graduated. Replacing all-conference players like Aaron Stone, Gus Fleps, Cobi Ortega, Taje Davis and Timothy Kinney won’t be easy.
Calixte likes to build his team from the back line forward. All-State defender Breton Lowry and junior goalie Adam Masters will provide the backbone for a defense that will be tough for anyone to solve.
“We’ve had some All-Staters here before, but I can’t remember having one coming back as a senior,” said Calixte regarding Lowry. “Playing center back last year, he proved he was able to shut down the best forwards we played against. And Breton is always striving to be better. He went out for indoor track and ran a sub-10 minute 2 mile. He really has one speed — hard and fast — and he’s such a tenacious player, too.
“Adam Masters will be an integral part of our success in goal, too. Just those two alone back there should cut down on the number of attempts other teams have to score against us. He has a calming presence back there, and he’s so good against PKs (penalty kicks) that his first name should be P.K.”
Returning starter Mark Roth will also play a key role on defense.
“He’s just such a joy to watch,” Calixte praised. “He’s so valuable to our team. He’s a solid defender and he can run for days. And he also has one of the highest soccer IQs on our team.”
Another senior, Ben Osterlund, logged plenty of minutes off the bench on defense last fall as the leader of the “Bench Mob.” “He put in a lot of work in the off-season. He wasn’t really left-footed and he put in so much work to get his foot stronger. He gave us such a work ethic, such positive energy and a never-say-die attitude off the bench last year. Now, he deserves to start,” the coach said.
Seniors Chris Vergara and Ben Rogan are back to man starting slots in the midfield, and Kepler Worobec — who scored Evanston’s only goal in the sectional championship loss to Wheeling — owns the biggest leg on the squad and will be a threat on restarts, just like he was last year. Ben Rogan also adds experience in the middle.
Opponents won’t be able to focus on one single offensive player because the Kits have plenty of potential scoring punch, even after graduating their top three scorers.
All-conference selection Oli Jacques could score double digit goals even with Evanston’s balance. Calixte expects junior Erick Balthazar to find the back of the net on a consistent basis, too, unless he’s distributing passes for his teammates to convert on.
“He must have had 5 assists in our Orange-Blue intrasquad game,” Calixte said. “He decided to play for us this year and not for the club (Fire Academy) and we’re really excited to have Erick. He’s probably our most talented player. When he’s clicking, he can be almost unstoppable. He’s really a dangerous player.”
Cristian Rodriguez , a creative force who had trouble finishing shots as a junior, bolsters the forward line along with Arturo Ramirez (leading scorer for the junior varsity team) and one of the squad’s most improved players, senior John Tsingas.
“We had no clue last year that we’d be that good as a team,” Calixte said. “But we know nothing is given to you. Can we come in and have success day in and day out, or will we play up and down? We’ll see.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information