GENEVA -- It was barely over two weeks ago that Glenbard West was subjected to its first penalty kick shootout in a heartbreaking loss to Hinsdale Central in a West Suburban Conference Silver Division clash.
You just never know how significant an impact such an experience can have on a team, especially when they soon find themselves in another shootout, but this time in their most important game of the season.
After battling against host Geneva for 100 scoreless minutes in Friday’s Class 3A regional championship, the Hilltoppers found themselves in the same spot as they were 16 days prior. This time, however, Glenbard West found a winning combination and took its first regional title in nine years with 4-3 spot-kick advantage.
Senior goalkeeper Jack Harrod prevented Geneva’s leading scorers Liam O’Donoghue (10 goals) and Trent Giansanti (17 goals) from converting. Meanwhile, Glenbard West juniors Davis Barta and Johan Palacios and seniors Grayson Kalinich and Eduardo Vargas buried their tries for the Hilltoppers. That sent the team into sectional play for the first time since 2014.
“With the past couple of weeks, we’ve been working on PKs,’” coach Phil Wycik said. “A lot of times the kids want to switch it up, and I’m like, ‘Practice your spot. If you are good at PKs you can tell the goalie which way you are going, and you can still score. Every single one of them kept their nerve and hit their spot. We had a couple mishits, but that’s alright though. Our goalie picked us up; our other captains picked us up; and that’s what they’re there for.”
Geneva (13-8-1) did not participate in a shootout during the regular-season.
“I thought we played well in terms of what they tried to do,” Geneva coach Jason Bhatta said. “And I felt that helped us get a lot of opportunities and to keep the sustained pressure with dealing what they wanted to do, and make them adapt to what we wanted to do.”
Despite that, the Vikings came up empty-handed offensively. O’Donoghue, who made a non-goalie save when he knocked away a shot from Jack Barrientes in the 45thminute that appeared destined for the back of the net, almost sent the faithful Geneva fans into pandemonium late in the match. But his 25-yard free kick headed upper-right corner kept sailing up and over in the 78th minute.
In the second overtime, O’Donoghue received the ball from Nick Blata and worked forward on the left edge of the box before sending in a cross for Peyton Friedman, but the junior’s bid to break the scoreless draw was off the mark.
“I was proud of the boys in our approach, how we played. They followed the instructions that were given,” Bhatta said. “But sometimes soccer is that way. You can have all this pressure and not get a goal, and it comes down to a penalty shootout.”
The Hilltoppers remembered their painful lesson against Hinsdale Central and made sure they were prepared if they had to go that route again.
“It’s all about doing what I do in practice,” said Vargas, who hit the deciding strike. “I didn’t expect it to go to pens, but we were all prepared if it did. We practice pens quite a bit. All I thought about when I went up for the pen was this is practice, do it again. We talked about picking a spot, don’t change it, and you’ll score.”
Holding on to a 4-3 lead, Glenbard West needed that final Harrod save to pull out the win.
“The loss against Hinsdale Central was tough,” Harrod said. “We’ve been mentally preparing for this every practice working on pens. Everyone knows their area, and everyone was mentally prepared for this so we came into this ready.”
Harrod earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor for his two diving shootout saves. Geneva goalkeeper Tommy Rowoldt also had a diving save in the shootout, denying Glenbard West’s second shooter, Brody Parchem. Harrod matched the moment and derailed any momentum the Vikings had just gained, when he followed with his stop of O’Donoghue’s attempt.
A shootout was certainly quite a change from a match that featured two teams who raced all over the pitch for 100 minutes.
“Once you are here, you’re kind of in the moment and whatever happens, happens,” Harrod said. “You leave everything here, because it’s win or go home. That’s it. We were ready for this. This is what we’ve been working on in every single practice over and over, that repetition and getting mentally prepared for it.”
Knowing this could be the end, provided great motivation for Harrod.
“Playing for 100 minutes is exhausting, but some kids aren’t playing soccer after today, and that could’ve been us playing for the last time,” he said. “So, we were leaving it all out there. We’re brothers out here; we were going to do what we could to finish it off.”
Wycik, who missed the Hinsdale Central match to welcome his baby daughter to the world, knew it would be tough to pull out a victory against the Vikings.
“Credit to Geneva,” he said. “They have a lot of skilled players/ They play a really great game of soccer with their formation and moving the ball around. They’re a really organized, well-coached team. Playing for 100 minutes, there’s a lot going through my mind. One mishit and my team is down and then 18 seniors are done. That’s the love of the game and the hate of the game. At the end of the day either we were moving on or they were moving on.”
It's the heartbreaking reality of the state tournament.
“Penalties is the worst way to go out,” Bhatta said. “It’s tough. But I told them that they played some of the best soccer that I’ve seen as a coach. For me personally, I thought the soccer we played throughout the season was so good. I told them ‘Don’t let this one penalty shootout take away everything we did (this season).’ I thought today we played good soccer. It came down to this, but the whole year we’ve been fantastic.”
Glenbard West has been rolling. In its last 10 matches, counting the regular-season losses to Hinsdale Central and a 4-0 defeat at the feet of top-seeded and no. 1 ranked Oak Park and River Forest, the Hilltoppers are on an 8-2-0 run. They’ll meet no. top-seeded and 13th ranked York on Wednesday. The Dukes defeated Glenbard East in a shootout after scoring twice in the last eight minutes of regulation to draw even. Glenbard West beat East 3-1 on the road in a Glenbard Cup match Sept. 30.
Glenbard West is now 13-8-1 after a 2-5-1 start.
“I believe as the season progressed we went hard in practice, and it just showed on the field how much we wanted to win,” Vargas said. “Early in the season we’d lose and be like ‘Oh my God, why are we losing to these teams?’ We shouldn’t have been losing due to set pieces and dumb rebound goals, but it happened. We learned from our mistakes and used that to get better in practice and improve in games.”
They certainly are having fun.
“It’s been amazing,” Vargas said. “The three years I’ve been on varsity I think this is the group that’s been the closest. Whether it’s on the field or off the field, we all kind of hang out. I feel like that is what makes us a great team. The great chemistry off the field translates onto it.”
“This was a great-fought match,” Wycik said. “This is probably the first complete game we had all the way around. We got a lot of people aching, people with muscle pains. They got tough and figured it out.”
Bhatta figures this loss will sting for the Vikings for a bit, but it’s a part of what inspire athletes to compete and strive to get better.
“I knew (Glenbard West) had been trending in the right direction and had some good results at the end,” Bhatta said. “We knew they were going to be tough coming in -- no matter who you play in a regional championship, it’s going to be tough. It’s not like you’re going to walk out of here and get a 3-0 win or whatever unless some things go your way.
“I was proud of everything the boys did this year,” he continued. “We had some good wins and made a run at conference. I told them this should hurt. It’s supposed to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt then you’re not investing enough. When it hurts that much it means you’ve invested emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. They’ve invested a lot over the course of the year. It’s good that it hurt, because it shows they were into it.”
GK: Jack Harrod
D: Aidan Adachi
D: Colin Weil
D: Kelley Roach
D: Luke Benson
MF: Davis Barta
MF: Eduardo Vargas
MF: Jack Barrientes
MF: Johan Palacios
MF: Joey Zerr
F: Alex Ginder
GK: Tommy Rowoldt
D: Jackson Raby
D: Carter Konkey
MF: Liam O’Donoghue
MF: Alexis Ramirez
MF: Reece Leonard
MF: Nic Plata
MF: Peyton Friedman
F: Trent Giansanti
F: Jack Hatton
F: Caleb Kelly
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Jack Harrod, sr., GK, Glenbard West
GW (4): Grayson Kalinich (goal), Brody Parchem (saved), Davis Barta (goal), Johan Palacios (goal), Eduardo Vargas (goal)
G (3): Carter Konkey (goal), Liam O’Donoghue (saved), Reece Leonard (goal), Nic Plata (goal), Trent Giansanti (saved)