Evanston soccer coach Franz Calixte decided to shake things up as far as the Wildkits’ starting lineup is concerned prior to a tournament in Iowa last weekend.
That choice marked another effort by Calixte to find the final pieces to his team puzzle with the start of the Illinois High School Association state tournament only a couple of weeks away.
Even the veteran coach didn’t know that the final pieces of that puzzle could include Reed Hurtig at forward and Morais Lee at center back on defense.
Hurtig, the team’s defensive anchor for the past two seasons, scored his second goal in three games Saturday and Lee displayed his athleticism on defense as the Wildkits wrapped up the home portion of the regular season schedule with a 3-1 win over Deerfield.
Evanston will host the local Class 3A sectional tournament later this month and Calixte is seeking the best combination to put on the field to make sure that Saturday’s victory wasn’t the last appearance at Lazier Field for a talented senior class.
The Kits, now 13-5-2 overall, are seeded No. 3 in the sectional field. They conclude the regular season with a road game at St. Ignatius next Friday, and will open play in the Glenbrook North Regional on Oct. 16 against either Hersey or Chicago Schurz.
A strong second half performance Saturday included a goal and an assist by senior Will Weinman and a goal by junior Dylan Kimball.
The lineup switch positioned Hurtig, who has prior experience at the forward position, to help earn family bragging rights since his father Elliott is the head coach at Deerfield. He sliced in to accept a perfect feed from Weinman with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first half to knot the score at 1-1.
Hurtig had only scored one goal in his varsity career prior to the Iowa trip.
“Last year was really the first year I played defense full-time,” Hurtig pointed out. “When I was younger, I played midfield and forward. I wouldn’t call myself goal scorer, I was more of a playmaker.
“We tried this in Iowa and it worked out pretty well. Coach wanted to switch things up and have me try to win some balls with my back to the goal and I did score on a header in the second game there. We had a lot of other guys (non-starters) step up and play well there and we played well as a team. I’m hoping this year is similar to last year, where we won 6 or 7 games in a row and we were peaking going into the playoffs. That’s big for the momentum we can get.”
Lee, promoted from the junior varsity squad, replaces Hurtig at center back even though he has limited experience at the position.
“Reed is big and fast and strong, he wins a lot of head balls and he plays with composure,” Calixte said. “And any time he asks for the ball, his teammates will give it to him.
“There are many reasons for that switch. We’ve got a lot of talent, but we’ve had a hard time scoring this year, and we’ve also been scored on defensively. I thought we needed something extra up top and that’s why we went with Reed. We need someone who can post up and win some head balls, and Reed is the guy who is best suited for that.
“We brought Morais and (junior) Frank Berkely up from the JV team for the Iowa trip. We had a scrimmage last week and the backups beat the starters pretty decisively. Morais actually played forward for the JV team and scored in all but one or two of their games. He came up partly because of an injury to Matthew Webley, and for that scrimmage he was the odd man out, so we just put him at center back. We saw that he was pretty solid back there, and so far he’s not making mistakes. He’s solid, he has good speed, he can play with both feet, and he keeps it simple.”
Most coaches would regard a significant lineup change like that this deep into the regular season as a gamble. Calixte doesn’t think that’s the case here.
“This is not a gamble,” he insisted. “I think some of our starters got complacent and we’re always talking about being in a competitive cauldron here. We’re going to look for the best combination of 11 guys to put on the field at a time. We still don’t have a lineup that’s set in stone, and we’re still tweaking some things.
“We still have a couple more pieces to figure out.”