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Preview story: Battle of the Napervilles, round 2, on tap Tuesday

By Chris Walker, 09/19/23, 12:00AM CDT


Red-hot Naperville North plans to drive toward its 10th-straight victory when the Huskies cruise across town to Naperville Central for the city derby Tuesday.

The huge DuPage Valley Conference matchup is colored by the Huskies previous win over the Redhawks on Sept. 2 -- a 5-0 result in the championship game of the Best of the West tournament. 

Last year, Naperville Central won the first meeting between the teams with a 2-1 conference win. After a 3-2 victory in the Bolingbrok Sectional title game, the Redhawks won out to take their first Class 3A state championship.

Now it’s time for the rivalry’s next chapter to be written.

“We know that is not realistic (repeating a 5-0 result), where everything goes your way,” Naperville North coach Jim Konrad said. “It could’ve been 3-2, 3-3. We definitely got the breaks that night, and sometimes that happens. This will be a way different game. Central is doing well and (coach) Troy (Adams) will make some adjustments.”

Naperville Central has certainly gone through changes since its unforgettable season. The pieces who returned and the next generation of Redhawks is talented, but it’s taking time for them to fit together. It’s a given that high school rosters change every season, and some losses to graduation are tough to replace. That makes the Redhawks are a team in transition.

Among those gone are: Josh Weigel, who scored the lone title-game goal to beat Romeoville in the 3A title game; Chase Adams, who was the 2022 Chciagoland Soccer and Gatorade Player of the Year; and fellow all-staters leading scorer and keeper Austin Waite.

“The hope is that we’re healthy. That (the 5-0 loss) was early in the season where we were still trying to figure out what the best combination of players and positions was,” Redhawks coach Troy Adams said. “I’m not going to say we have solved it, but I think we’re in a better place with what works and what doesn’t work.

“It’s always the first seven games before conference games where you’re figuring out things and what’s needed. You hope to get healthy and then put the pieces together.”

After a 5-2 loss to West Chicago to open the year, Naperville North has put it together in a big way. The tandem of juniors Jaxon Stokes (17 goals, 2 assists) and Noah Radeke (15 goals, 11 assists) has become the most exciting scoring duo in the state. 

“The pair is unselfish with each other and very good around the goal,” Konrad said. “They … have obviously powered us. They do such a good job of keeping the opponent under pressure. It gives the midfield and the defense some breathing room.”

With a lesser load on the two back thirds, the groups have been able to grow at a comfortable pace.

“We’ve gotten better in the midfield and the defense by playing as simple as possible and getting the ball up-top to those guys,” Konrad said. “We’re super young right now with only one senior starting and a couple guys hurt. We’re learning as we go and clicking on all cylinders.”

Naperville Central is piecing it together one day at a time.

“Last year we knew what the starting lineup was going to be, what the formation was going to be, and going back to 2021 it was the same thing,” Adams said. “These pieces now, how are they going to best fit together? Some years are easy. It makes a lot of sense and you just roll with it. We know these are good players. How can we put these good players together to make them the most effective?”

After the loss in the Best of the West, Adams told Chicagoland Soccer after the game that “It’s only a real loss if we don’t learn from it.” While aiming for nothing short of a victory Tuesday, little wins can be gained even if they come up short. 

“The goal we always talk about is the 12 must-wins,” Adams said. “You’ve got the five conference games and seven state playoff games. Those are must-win games. It’s not that you don’t want to win every game. There’s added importance on the five and seven.”

Players from the two teams are acquaintances and friends. It adds to one of the most festive regular-season games in the state.

“The kids know each other. They know what they’re strengths are and where there might be a bit of a challenge,” Adams said. “I think sometimes that can get overblown, but obviously there’s some familiarity on the field at any given time.”

A nice seat in the bleachers is the place for you to be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday as the Redhawks try to cool off the Huskies.

“We have a game plan, and let’s execute the game plan and hopefully it’s the right one,” Adams said. “If we execute the right one, it hopefully leads to a win. If for some reason it doesn’t, we
need to get a new game plan. And next time we do it, we’ll make it better.”

Intensity will not be in short supply.

“We expect people to give us their best shot,” he said. “It’s a good thing for the boys, but it can be exhausting at times. When teams play us, we’re going to get their best shot. We’ll get that from Central, and we’ll get that from Morton and Joliet West later this week.”