Naperville Central will never forget its moment in the sun.
The Redhawks punctuated an 18-game season-ending winning streak with their 1-0 victory over Romeoville in the Class 3A state championship Nov. 5 in Hoffman Estates.
The natural question is what do they do for an encore?
To help figure that out, is there a better way to welcome back the boys soccer season than with Chicagoland Soccer’s annual First 50 preseason poll?
For neophytes, this poll marks the map where we think you should look for the top prep soccer programs in the state, regardless of which IHSA class designation they play under.
Any sanctioned team was considered for inclusion on the list. Their past season accomplishments and returning talent were measured and studied.
Strong performances and seasons overwhelmingly tend to carry over.
Until proven on the field, Naperville Central is our team to beat. That stands even though its Player of the Year, Chase Adams, is away pursuing his professional dreams with the Columbus Crew academy program in Ohio instead of trying to defend the Class 3A state championship in his sophomore year.
Despite graduating Adams and other top offensive producers, Naperville Central has a wealth of options, positional flexibility, size, athleticism, an air-tight defense with multiple defenders and a keeper returning.
Still, the Redhawks are far from a shoe-in. The field is loaded.
One prominent coach asked to survey the new season said: “I heard good stuff about Elgin. Other than that, I think the usual suspects will all be there with more parity.”
Last season, Elgin, then 20-0-3, met a fellow undefeated and no. 1-seed in York (19-0-3) on Nov. 1 at Streamwood. The Dukes prevailed 4-2 in PKs after a 2-2 score following 100 minutes of play.
Many of the key teams that battled for state supremacy are back in the First 50.
The three defending state champions -- Naperville Central and two Notre Dames (Peoria in Class AA; and Quincy in Class A) -- are prominently featured in the poll.
The best way to approach the First 50 is as a conversation-starter, a way to project the eight-week regular-season and three-week playoff run that follows.
Beginning at the start of next week, Chicagoland Soccer will publish four, regular-season polls to keep its finger on the pulse of the state's top teams. The Top 25 charts the Chicago-area teams; the Illinois 10 spotlights the best programs outside the city and suburbs. If top smaller schools don't reach those heights, they'll likely earn a spot in the Class AA and A Super Seven polls.
Last season, Naperville Central and Adams made a grand statement with an opening-day victory over perennial, suburban power Morton. Everyone has a clean slate right now.
The possibilities are infinite, like the beauty and wonder of the game itself.
(PR-Previous ranking refers to the team’s placement in the Final 50 poll last November. NR means not ranked. The records are the final marks from last year.)
|1||1||Naperville C||26-3-1||Defense could lead the way|
|2||5||Elgin||20-1-3||6 starters from supersectional team|
|3||8||Morton||20-3-0||Max Aquino is back|
|4||2||Romeoville||28-2-1||Dangerous nucleus leads|
|5||4||York||20-2-3||Loaded with offense|
|6||13||Notre Dame (Peo)||23-3-1||AA champs return intact|
|7||9||Hinsdale C||16-5-1||Elite offensive talent back|
|8||10||Oak Park/RF||15-4-0||Versatile, deep and skilled|
|9||6||Naperville N||17-4-4||Hindo Allie is next star|
|10||11||Lyons||15-6-3||Fine mix of skill, size and playmakers|
|11||21||St. Charles E||18-4-3||Saints feature dynamic attack|
|12||15||Glenwood||20-4-2||AA runnerup back in force|
|13||19||Bloom||21-6-2||Lots of moxie with 10 starters back|
|14||16||Grayslake C||19-2-3||Chicago's top AA team is loaded|
|15||17||Sandburg||17-2-3||Eagles have strong core|
|16||14||Benet||15-5-1||Quality, consistency a trademark|
|17||7||New Trier||19-2-4||Trevians have gifted young talent|
|18||20||Stagg||20-3-2||Returns experience and skill|
|19||22||Solorio||22-5-0||Look for city repeat, state finals run|
|20||23||Lane||15-5-1||Sectional finalist looks to retake city|
|21||29||Edwardsville||17-6-2||Tigers are best of the south|
|22||12||Conant||20-5-1||Brimming with offensive talent|
|23||27||Notre Dame (Qy)||19-6-2||Class A state champs seek repeat|
|24||33||Marmion||10-9-5||7 starters back, big things expected|
|25||NR||Lockport||15-5-1||Laden with size, depth, versatility|
|26||24||St. Laurence||19-3-1||Skilled playmakers will direct Vikings|
|27||39||Mount Carmel||14-4-5||Brandon Razo leads skilled group|
|28||31||Joliet West||17-6-3||Speed will break down opponents|
|29||37||Morton (Ill.)||18-4-5||Will battle ND for Peoria supremacy|
|30||40||Young||11-5-3||A team on the rise|
|31||42||Warren||15-5-2||Lucas Ahonen influences young squad|
|32||NR||Evanston||13-6-2||Fast, athletic attack for Wildkits|
|33||3||Stevenson||22-1-3||Look to reload off state finals run|
|34||38||Sacred Heart-G||25-3-1||Challenger for Class A title|
|35||NR||WW South||8-6-3||Impressed during the summer|
|36||32||West Aurora||15-4-5||Young, talented and potentially explosive|
|37||46||Round Lake||11-4-3||Perennial threats ready to make noise|
|38||28||Althoff||28-2-0||2-time A finalist craves another run|
|39||30||Collinsville||17-4-3||Ready for a top campaign|
|40||25||Triad||21-4-0||Looks to regroup & continue success|
|41||44||Normal W||18-5-2||Figures to continue strong run|
|42||NR||St. Charles North||9-6-4||Great potential if offense develops|
|43||45||Moline||16-4-1||Champions Quad Cities hopes|
|44||NR||Boylan||18-4-1||Rockford's finest, AA threat|
|45||41||Lake Zurich||12-5-2||Rock solid program hungry for more|
|46||NR||Streamwood||10-8-4||Features compelling offensive pieces|
|47||43||Champaign C||20-3-2||Emerging power in AA|
|48||NR||Palatine||10-9-2||Late-season run gave indication|
|49||NR||Libertyville||7-9-4||Ready for turnaround campaign|
|50||48||Lemont||14-4-7||5 returning starters will lead|