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Season preview: St. Charles East

By Chris Walker, 08/22/23, 11:15AM CDT


Many of the players at St. Charles East have played together for a long time.

The group expects that the familiarity will lead to winning soccer. The Fighting Saints host Bartlett in a nonconference match to open the season at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

The roster boasts 14 seniors for a program coming off a championship run in the DuKane Conference. The team finished an impressive 17-3-4, but the season ended too soon after a crushing regional final, upset loss to Glenbard East on PKs.

“The past years we’ve had some good teams,” senior goalkeeper Jordan Rolon said. “My sophomore year is the farthest we’ve got (a 9-8 PK loss in nine rounds to eventual state champ York in the rainy Addison Trail Sectional final) when I’ve been here. So, it was unfortunate to not get to that point last year. We have high hopes for it this season. Coming from the summer, we played a lot together so everyone knows this team can go far. I don’t think we doubt ourselves at all. We want to get to the place where we want to be.”

Seniors Jake Walker and Griffin Counts return to anchor the backline in front of Rolon and backup keeper Ivan Campobasso. They welcome freshman Michael Greszenko to the backline, while fellow defenders Brandon Garland, Robert Kutrovatz, Abe Leidig, Garrett Melton and Deven Patel will all do their part for a program that posted 11 shutouts last fall and enjoyed a nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1).

“It really is a blessing to have all these guys that we know so much about,” Walker said. “Knowing their habits on and off the field brings us closer together and the level of soccer up for what to expect from each player.

“I’m kind of like the janitor in back, because I clean up people’s mistakes and keep everything organized,” he continued. “I keep it clean on the field and try to organize the front line and the whole team together to make sure all the boxes are checked for the game.”

Walker knows what he’s expected to do. Perhaps “Jake the Janitor” will even stick as a nickname going forward?

Logan Lewarchick (5 goals, 8 assists last season) is back to patrol the midfield where fellow seniors Aiden Maloney, Santi Porcayo, Brandon Pinto and Alex Meseka will join him.

“Our midfielders this year are very strong, especially our 10 (Lewarchick),” Counts said. “The mids are very creative and composed on the ball. Our forwards like to take shots from outside the box and are very decisive. The key to our mids’ and forwards’ success this fall is holding the ball.”

Keeping composure is certainly key when opportunities arise.

“At times we can be very direct and reckless to score, causing us to lose the ball in transition,” Counts added. “If our mids and forwards can do a better job of holding the ball and allowing us to get our numbers up, then goals will come as a result.”

Up-top, senior Marc Walker returns. Sophomore Connor Sychowski is an added weapon for the Saints, while seniors Giuseppe Avendano, Ryan Groselak and Omar Ontiveros, and juniors Justin Brooks and Kevin Sanchez bolster an attack that will look to replace the 20 goals and 6 assists that all-stater and DuKane Player of the Year Mason Brockmeyer provided.

“Mainly it’s kind of not revolving around one player, it’s kind of moving the ball around better as more of a unit,” said Marc Walker, Jake's twin brother. “It’s no longer just getting the ball to him for him to dribble down the line. We miss having that weapon so we have to learn to adapt either way.”

One of the things Marc Walker did to begin this season stronger than the last was to continue to work on patience and an ability to flush away mistakes and move on to the next play.

“I’m mainly focusing on not rushing things. When I’m on the ball or have a free kick, I try to take a deep breath and wait a few seconds so I can focus on what I’m doing,” he said. “If I do mess up, it’s on to the next ball. No matter what, it’s next play. I think that approach will get us to go far. We’re going to have mistakes and mess-ups.”

Handling pressure in a positive way is key.

“(Coach Vince) DiNuzzo emphasized that we have to deal with pressure by turning it into positive energy,” Marc Walker said. “Don’t let it fold us. It happened against Glenbard East (in the regional title loss last year). When they had the equalizing goal, we were so nervous and the pressure folded in on us and then we lost (on penalties). 

“I love the pressure, because I think it makes it more fun. I think the beauty of the sport is in the imperfections, but sometimes the pressure can be too much.”

That’s why it’s so important to find ways to handle it -- it can be the difference-maker, especially in games that are decided by a single goal. Last year, St. Charles East went 5-1-0 in one-goal games and fell in its only two shootouts. Dating back to 2018, the Fight Saints have lost their last six PK sessions.

“I’ve been playing with Jake (Walker) and Griffin (Counts) since I was little so I know I can trust Jake and Griffin and a couple new kids, Brandon Garland and freshman Michael Greszenko.” Rolon said. “I know we have the chemistry, and it’s gotten better with communicating with the backline and receiving the ball and switching the field. And they know they can trust me. We’ve been working on building out of the back and connecting that to our midfield and shifting the field of play.”

DiNuzzo shared that his players were committed to preparing for the season and are ready to get going now to see their efforts rewarded.

“The boys have been working hard in the off-season to prepare for this season with an extensive summer weight lifting program, summer league games and training, and summer camp,” he said. “And some were even fortunate enough to compete overseas.”

The Saints certainly built up their expectations for this fall season after many players enjoyed the experience of a lifetime overseas with St. Charles FC. The group went 2-1-1 in U-19 play during the Spain Cup in early July before winning the U-18 division July 10-15 at the Paris World Games.

“We did a lot this summer,” Jake Walker said. “We did weight training and running and then we played 12 to 15 games of summer league in town. But the main thing was spending 16 days in Spain and France. I wouldn’t say the competition was 100 percent better than any high school team we’ve played, but the environment was one where we saw the stars align and every single game we played I watched our team keep pushing forward from there.”

That recent success, combined with the great chemistry that has been developed by players who have been playing alongside each other for years, has the Saints poised for big things this fall.  They’ve posted an impressive 47-12-12 record the past three seasons but are still searching for bigger wins late in the season.

“After the postseason loss we aren’t hungry, we are starving,” Counts said. “Everyone expected us to go far last year and even the year before that. Both years we came back empty-handed. This year we won’t take failure as an option and prove that we are a state-worthy team.”

Winning the state’s biggest prize would definitely be the ultimate ending for this group -- for the majority of the roster this season will mark the end of their high school soccer careers.

“Most of us go back to when we were little, but either way, we’ve been connected since freshman year,” Rolon said. “I remember freshman year and JV and looking up at the seniors and thinking that this is going to be us one day. It went by fast. This is our last season, our last time playing together so it’s kind of surreal. It gives us that extra motivation so that we can have our best season. It’s going to be really fun.”

Hoisting a state trophy would take fun to another level, and Counts is counting on that. The Saints won their two state titles in 1995 and 1996.

“This year, you can expect a state ring from us boys,” he said. “This group of guys are hungry and devoted to bringing home a state ‘ship. We will only be satisfied once we are ringed.”

A lot of things can happen during a long season, but St. Charles East’s aim is to win the final game on the final day.

Editor’s note: Author Chris Walker is not related to Marc or Jake Walker.