NAPERVILLE — It’s not a stretch to say that Naperville Central played one of the most challenging schedules of any team in the area three weeks into the 2023 season.
The defending Class 3A state champions have already faced Morton, Naperville North and Evanston — ranked nos. 2, 3 and 4 — in the latest Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.
Naperville Central’s three losses came against Morton (1-0 on Aug. 21), the rival Huskies (5-0 in the Best of the West tournament title game Sept. 2) and the Wildkits (5-1 Sept. 9). These clubs are a combined 21-1-1 so far.
But Redhawks coach Troy Adams is looking at the big picture. He tells his team there are 12 games they must focus on— the five DuPage Valley Conference games and the seven it would take to repeat as state champions.
And the way he sees it, the Redhawks are currently undefeated. Naperville Central pulled away from host and league foe Neuqua Valley late in the game Tuesday afternoon to secure a 4-1 victory. The Redhawks sit at 2-0-0 in conference, so two down and three to go.
“We got three points for the conference win last week (1-0 over Waubonsie Valley on Sept. 5),” Adams said. “We got three points here. Then we play (Naperville) North in the game that matters.”
The Redhawks (5-3-1) are idle until Sept. 19, when they get another shot at their hometown rival.
“The first game, they (Naperville North) definitely didn’t get the real us,” said Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match and sophomore midfielder Eli Jarrell, who registered his first career hat-trick Tuesday.
“We’ve improved a lot, switched formations, and we’re switching guys around. I think we’re in a solid place now where e can hopefully take them down.”
The final two of Jarrell’s three goals, scored in the 79th and 80th minutes, enabled Naperville Central to finally gain separation from Neuqua Valley, which fell to 0-2-0 in conference play.
Two minutes from time, Redhawks senior forward Jonathan Stohner gained possession of a 50/50 ball deep in the Wildcats’ zone and set up Jarrell, who put his shot away for a 3-1 lead.
With under a minute to go, Jarrell completed his three-goal night after an assist from senior midfielder Clay Scherf.
“His last two goals, he needs to give credit to his teammates,” Adams noted. “They were extraordinarily unselfish. Clay could have taken the shot, and he decided to do the right thing and play it across. The hat-trick is great, but it was teammates being unselfish. Johnny working to get that ball, looking to find the open player is a huge piece of that.
“Hopefully, it (the hat-trick) gives Jarrell a little more comfort in front of the goal, and it allows him to be a little more comfortable in that scoring position. Goal scorers are hard to come by, and the more guys you can get comfortable in that position, the better off you’re going to be.”
In the 11th minute, Jarrell put the Redhawks up 1-0 just a few seconds after Wildcat senior goalkeeper Nick Varrone came up with a spectacular save on a Redhawks’ shot following a scramble in front of the goal.
The Redhawks continued to put pressure in the Wildcats’ zone and it paid off when sophomore forward Ludo Gallina scored in the 17th minute for a 2-0 lead.
“I thought we settled into an attacking style (during the game),” Adams said. “There were frustrations with it, but we looked to play a little bit more direct. The more we can do that, the better off we’re going to be.”
Neuqua Valley (6-3-1) cut its deficit to 2-1 in the 37th minute.
Naperville Central goalkeeper Dylan Scott came out of the goal area in an effort to take possession of a 50/50 ball, but Neuqua Valley senior midfielder Parker Kurtenbach was able to gain control and slip past Scott for an open net goal.
“It was kind of a far ball, so I had to chase after it and meet the keeper,” Kurtenbach said, “but luckily, I was able to tap it past him.”
“We both came out (for the ball),” said Scott. “He clipped me a little bit, inside of my thigh. It kind of made me lose the ball. Unfortunately, the ref didn’t see that, but it is what it is. He got to the ball first, so it was a goal. He just beat me to it.”
Scott said he believes the victory over Neuqua Valley “definitely helps us out.”
“It took us some time, but I think we’re figuring things out now,” he said.
Although Neuqua Valley hung with the visitors most of the match, Wildcats coach Arnoldo Gonzalez wasn’t happy with the effort.
“After last week, which was a very strong week, and the type of soccer we were playing, we were hoping to keep that going,” said Gonzalez, whose team edged 15th-ranked St. Charles North 2-1 on the road Sept. 7. “And it was the total opposite (Tuesday). It was a conference (game). You should come ready to play, and we clearly showed we did not regardless of the score. It was not pretty to watch. We just weren’t prepared to play.
“We beat St. Charles North, and not only did we beat them, it was a great game. You lose to Naperville North (5-1 on Sept. 5), but you’re playing great soccer. But that is what you expect. Come and play soccer. You’re not going to win them all, but play soccer.”
Gonzalez said his team needs to do some soul-searching.
“We just did not come ready to play, and it shows,” he said. “They’ve got to search. If you’re not going to bed early, if you’re staying up late, if you’re not ready to run, it shows. All those little mistakes, those are individual mistakes, and so, everyone should be responsible for their mistakes. And it’s not talking about just the goals. It’s just that if we can’t connect passes, if we can’t play soccer, then that’s on us.”
The Wildcats have a week off until their next contest at Metea Valley on Sept. 19.
“That’s another conference game,” Gonzalez said. “You throw records out the window. It’s conference, and it’s also district. You just come ready to play. It’s going to be a different outlook, because you’re not making that run for the DVC (title).”
That’s in contrast to the Redhawks, who, with a win over Naperville North next week, would gain the driver’s seat on the road to the league championship.
“It’s not for the DVC title, but it usually determines the DVC title one way or the other,” Adams said, “It’s a game, regardless of how the previous one went, you look forward to. It’s one you want to play. I think the biggest thing for us is to get mentally right and physically healthy. That’s probably two of the biggest keys the next week.
“Hopefully we get a little bit of a rest here. We don’t have a game until North, and we can get a bit of a recovery. We’re still trying to figure out formation and rotations. Hopefully we can use this to kind of move in the right direction going forward.”
GK – Dylan Scott
D – Patrick Berryman
D – Ryan Gervase
D – Michael Cavalleri
D – Ryan Lafferty
MF – Michael DeFalco
MF – Carter Adams
MF – Eli Jarrell
MF – Patrick Bohan
MF – Clay Schref
F – Ludo Gallina
GK – Nick Varrone
D – Lukas Wasowicz
D – Wesley Karubas
D – Justin Senese
MF – Jack Doll
MF – Andrew Tedrow
MF – Ricky Robledo
MF – Parker Kurtenbach
MF – Ege Tunar
MF – Esteban Pimentel
F – Dominic Landato
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Eli Jarrell, so., MF, Naperville Central
Naperville Central – Eli Jarrell (Unassisted), 11’
Naperville Central – Ludo Gallina (Unassisted), 17’
Neuqua Valley – Parker Kurtenbach (Lukas Wasowicz), 37’
Naperville Central – Eli Jarrell (Jonathan Stohner), 79’
Naperville Central – Eli Jarrell (Clay Scherf), 80’