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Game story: Whoa, Adrian! Hersey keeper Smakowski assists defensively, offensively in win over Niles North

By Bill McLean, 08/22/23, 11:00PM CDT


Huskies overcome Graham brace, resilient Vikings to win wild 4-3 CSL/MSL Challenge match

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — Soccer’s version of Halley’s Comet streaked over the pitch at Roland R. Goins Stadium on Monday night.

Hersey junior goalkeeper and co-captain Adrian Smakowski used a soccer ball and his powerful left leg to mimic the traveling celestial body in the first half of the Huskies’ season-opener against visiting Niles North.

His line-drive delivery traveled at least 70 yards, before Hersey freshman forward Meschac Bryant caught up to the ball and controlled it in the 24th minute. Bryant then dribbled briefly in the box and blasted a short, near-post shot past Vikings junior keeper Giovanni Zavala-Fuentes for the first goal of the Central Suburban League/Mid-Suburban League Challenge match.

“It was like a missile,” Hersey coach Michael Rusniak said of Smakowski’s smashing assist.

Halley’s Comet won’t be visible again until 2061, when Smakowski will be 55 years old. His teammates and coach wouldn’t mind seeing more of those blazing helpers in the next two seasons. 

“We’re blessed to have Adrian, our team’s heart and soul, in goal for us,” Hersey junior forward Joe Farrell said.

Monday’s spectators felt grateful, too, in pleasant weather conditions. They were treated to several other phenomenal sightings in Hersey’s 4-3 victory, during which Niles North — a 20-2-2 team last fall — trailed by a goal three times and received a two-goal, one-assist game from marvelous senior forward Quinn Graham, who shared Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honors with the 6-foot-4,160-pound Smakowski (eight saves).

Farrell, a first-time varsity starter, netted the game-winner in the 72nd minute off a feed from Bryant. The goal — Farrell’s first varsity tally — wasn’t as spectacular as Smakowski’s cosmic moment, but it certainly deserved four stars.

Five minutes after Niles North (0-1-0) knotted the contest at 3, Farrell, from a sideline spot near his club’s bench, launched a 22-yard shot that clanged off the inside of the far post and ended up settling near the near post behind Zavala-Fuentes (five saves).

“We lost a ton of players (to graduation in the spring),” Farrell said. “We knew we had to bring it tonight, and bring it we did. Teams that play us this season will have to be prepared to deal with our grit.”

And Hersey junior back Nate Mabry’s dangerous flip throw-ins.

One of his acrobatic, highly entertaining tosses was redirected — from about three yards — by junior forward Kacper Lechowicz. 

The goal occurred five minutes after a Graham PK had leveled the score at 2 in the 56th minute.

“Tonight’s game was intense and electric from the start,” said Graham, a co-captain who, after collecting a pass from junior midfielder Daniel Escobedo, opened the scoring for the Vikings in the 31st minute via a 15-yard, far-post goal after his breakaway.

“Good game, intense and physical,” he added. “It was an opener for both sides, but it felt like a game that’s played at the end of a season. Both sides played fantastic soccer tonight.”

Junior forward Ray Reyes scored Hersey’s second goal in the 34th minute, after making a couple of deft moves near the top of the penalty arc. The unassisted tally gave the hosts a 2-1 lead — the score at halftime. 

Graham chipped a beautiful cross to initiate the visitors’ final goal. Vikings junior midfielder Robert Schneider, stationed just outside the goal box, headed the ball past a diving Smakowski in minute 67.

Hersey defender and co-captain Billy Beck contributed an assist with 1:42 remaining, but it was the kind that doesn’t qualify for the stats sheet.

Beck rushed to help a fallen Schneider, who was writhing in pain due to a leg cramp. Beck stood over the Viking while he extended his left leg skyward. Beck then held his foe’s ankle and gently maneuvered it, hoping to at least tamp down the knot that had formed in Schneider’s calf. Beck’s thoughtfulness and spot-on impersonation of a seasoned athletic trainer lasted almost two minutes.

“Great sportsmanship from Billy,” Smakowski said.

After the tough loss, Niles North coach Filip Cejovic asked his players a question. It was a query he didn’t have to pose.

“How many of you are disappointed?” the coach asked. “Raise your hand if you are?”

Lots of hands shot up.

The response didn’t upset Cejovic in the least. It proved how much his Vikings care about competing.

The coach later praised his club for performing brilliantly in a playoff-like battle against a formidable opponent.

Rusniak, meanwhile, wasn’t ecstatic about the three goals allowed. But he’s got a fellow named Adrian Smakowski on his side, which should trigger hundreds of smiles in Huskies Nation for the next two months.

“Adrian,” he said, “kept us in the game with the saves he made.”

And with an assist for the ages.

Early-season action continues for the teams when Hersey (1-0-0) visits Jacobs on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., and Niles North hosts Prosser on Thursday at 7 p.m.


Each team took six corner kicks Monday night. … Cejovic, Niles North’s ninth-year coach, played soccer at Maine South and at DePaul University. He battled mostly as a forward and sometimes as a midfielder. Of his 2023 Vikings he said: “We have very nice pieces — high-end pieces. This team has great potential, with a lot of talent. It has a chance to be my best team at Niles North. We hope to inspire our players all season.” North, which won a Class 3A regional title last fall, captured two of the last three Central Suburban League North Division titles. … Rusniak, in his sixth season at the helm of Hersey’s boys program, noted something was missing from each of his Huskies during preseason training. “Ego,” he said before Monday’s kickoff. “We talk ‘team’ a lot, and this group is really cohesive. They’re all tough, too. Each tried to outwork everybody. We’re excited to compete against a school tonight instead of ourselves.” … Niles North’s record in 2022 was 20-2-2. Eerie. … Third-year varsity man Graham, on Niles North erasing deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 Monday night: “Our heart, for sure, is what we’ll be known for this season. Hersey is an aggressive team, with a lot of heart, too.”

Starting lineups

Niles North
GK Giovanni Zavala-Fuentes
D Daniel Sticlaru
D Arjun Krishna
D Gael Garcia
MF Daniel Escobedo
MF Brian Naidas
MF Robert Schneider
MF Diego Moreno
MF Trey Zakeri
F Quinn Graham
F Trey Harris

GK Adrian Smakowski
D Nate Mabry
D Urik Contla
D Daniel Majerczak
D Billy Beck
MF Johnny Antoniou
MF Mateo Pesantes
MF Bart Ziomek
F Kacper Lechowicz
F Joe Farrell
F Ray Reyes

Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match: Adrian Smakowski, jr.,GK, Hersey; 
Quinn Graham, sr., F, Niles North

Scoring summary

First half
Hersey — Meschac Bryant (Smakowski), 24’
Niles North — Graham (Escobedo), 31’
Hersey Reyes (UA), 34’

Second half
Niles North — Graham (PK), 56’
Hersey — Lechowicz (Mabry), 61’
Niles North — Schneider (Graham), 67’
Hersey — Farrell (Bryant), 72’