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Game story: Memory serves Stevenson in win over Fremd

By Bobby Narang, 10/19/23, 3:30PM CDT


Patriots eliminate drama in playoff-opening 5-0 win

By Bobby Narang

LINCOLNSHIRE – Almost a year ago to the day, Stevenson opened up the Class 3A playoffs with a big scare.

Despite featuring a team loaded with talented veterans and up-and-coming players, the Patriots squeezed out a hard-fought 2-1 win over Prospect in a regional semifinal on Oct. 18, 2022. The Patriots went on to ride the strong play of seniors defender Steven Nyc, midfielders Daniel Sokolovsky, Bryant Rouse and Rohan Gopalam, and keeper Aidan Morris, to post the best finish in school history. The Patriots defeated defending champion York 2-1 in the third place game for the program’s highest finish plus its first victory at the state tournament. 

Flash forward 364 days, to Tuesday’s Class 3A Stevenson Regional semifinal against Fremd. The Patriots dispensed with the drama with two goals in the first 20 minutes en route to a comfortable 5-0 win over the Vikings on an ideal early fall evening.

The Patriots, the no. 3-seed in Fremd’s sectional, advanced to play 11th-seeded Buffalo Grove in the regional championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday. Buffalo Grove won the nightcap in equally impressive fashion with a 4-0 upset win over no. 6-seed Mundelein.

The Patriots (15-2-1) exorcised some playoffs demons with their shutout win over the 14th-seeded Vikings (5-9-4, 5-4-3). Stevenson avenged a 4-1 loss to Fremd in a 2019 regional game. The Vikings also beat the Patriots 5-1 in a 2021 sectional semifinal playoff game.

Stevenson, ranked tenth in the final regular-season Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, now face a hungry and motivated Buffalo Grove team, which was the Mid-Suburban League East Division champion. Previously, the Bison lost 2-1 to the Patriots in a 2021 regional title game.

Stevenson coach PepeJon Chavez said his team came out focused and motivated to start the playoffs. Chavez even had his own surprise in the postgame with a catchy phrase to describe his team.

“I’m proud of the boys, but it’s just one game,” Chavez said. “We have to focus on the next one. We plan to work, and we work to plan. I’m proud of the boys for coming out and putting in a good effort. Buffalo Grove wants revenge from a couple of years ago here, so there’s a storyline.

“We got some good balls in and were able to finish. We’re looking for a long playoff run every single year. We believe in reloading, not rebuilding. We understand it’s one game at a time. We’ve been working hard all year long, and we came out strong today with a good effort.”

Stevenson junior Christopher Konieczny scored two goals, Sebastian Pop added a goal and Advaith Rmanan closed out the scoring with his first goal of the season in the final minute. The Patriots benefitted from an own-goal in the 39th minute to seize a comfortable 3-0 lead at intermission.

Konieczny said the Patriots were focused on a strong start.

“I saw the ball go wide,” Konieczny said of his first goal. “I knew that ball was going in the box, and knew where it was going and slotted it in.

“The second goal was the same thing. It was a nice goal. We slowed down our attack and controlled the ball and that gave us better chance to finish than in our previous games.

“We aren’t looking back on last year. Both teams had positive starts and are trying to continue it to get big wins. It was crucial to finish the game in the first half, to set the tone for the whole playoffs. Setting the tone early and putting those in early puts us off on a good run.”

Fremd coach Steve Keller said the Patriots were the dominant team on Tuesday, hampering his team’s game plan with two goals in the opening 20 minutes.

“We hung with them for maybe 15 to 20 minutes but once they got the first one, our game plan went out the window. We had to come out and play and the game opened up,” Keller said. “They are a pretty talented team. You have to play smart team defense, make sure you cover for each other but also you have to play individually well in your 1-v-1 matchup.

“We got exposed twice on the wing on those first two goals and that kind of put things on the backburner for us. Hopefully, (our kids) remember this and learn from this. I think we’ve gotten a lot of valuable minutes from a lot of young guys, so we can hopefully go upward in our trajectory. This was good experience, so hopefully next year coming back we can put together something more competitive with our record.”

Fremd senior Cameron Williams, a first-year varsity player, said the first two goals from the fast and athletic Patriots shocked the Vikings.

“We knew it would be an uphill battle, so it stung a little bit after the first two goals,” Williams said. “It was definitely hard, and we weren’t ready. They caught us by surprise. But I’m glad I got some time being a leader and role model for the younger kids.”

Fremd goalie Bennett Ash showed his toughness in the match. endured a rough game in many ways. The first-year full-time varsity starter suffered an injury midway through the second half before returning 10 minutes later to complete the game. The senior had memorable moments in the loss with a number of eye-catching saves. He finished his prep career with five stops and a lifetime of memories playing for the Vikings.

“I had a really fun time, loved it and it was all good,” Ash said. “I loved helping the underclassmen and making friends. It’s about the team. We didn’t have the best record, but we were a team. Stevenson is a great team. They outplayed us, and their crosses were different almost every time.”

Fremd sophomore Stefan Smolak is just starting his varsity journey. He earned valuable minutes this season.

“It was a big step after playing freshman A last year,” Smolak said. “It was a big learning experience and a lot more physical, but that’s the environment I like playing in. It gave me the experience. Junior year will be better. By my senior year, I will have two years of experience on the varsity.”

The defender tossed praise his opponent’s way.

“Playing teams outside our conference showed me a lot,” he said. “Stevenson is a really good team. We knew that coming into the game. We gave it our all. 

“They were really fast. It was really hard marking their runners off the crosses. That’s how they scored three of their goals. Their crosses were really good.”

Stevenson’s Pop, who gave his team a 2-0 lead with a goal with 20:31 left until halftime, said the entire team played well against Fremd.

“We had a quite a few good crosses in today, and we were able to score a few of them,” Pop said. “It feels good to start the playoffs with good form and getting five goals.”

Stevenson’s Benjamin Inthisone tallied an assist in the victory.

“This was amazing, a 5-0 win is an amazing start for us,” Inthisone said. “Last year was a great run, but this year hopefully we can take it all. Last year’s state semifinal loss still haunts me to this day. (Saturday) we have to communicate and connect from our defense to our midfielders.

“With the new players, we made sure this year we showed them we are one team, one unit. We are one team at the end of the day.”

Starting lineups
GK: Bennett Ash
D: Erik Mihal
D: Kristian Toshev
D: Cameron Williams
D: Stefan Smolak
MF: Fede D’Antonio
MF: Tyler Roos
MF: Kyle Grassee
F: Cole Murray
F: Nate Schmeling
F: Jose Hernandez

GK: Will Rokosh
D: Alex Huelsman
D: Mohit Damodaran
D: Ameer Takieddin
D: Jack Shrout
MF: William Boshold
MF: Sebastian Pop
MF: Benjamin Inthisone
MF: Shu Aoyagi
F: Chris Konieczny
F: Alex Gie

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Christopher Konieczny, jr., F, Stevenson

Scoring summary

First half
Stevenson: Konieczny (Inthisone), 16’
Stevenson: Pop (Pryor), 20’
Stevenson: (own goal), 39’
Second half
Stevenson: Konieczny (unassisted), 57’
Stevenson: Rmanan (Chang), 80’