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Season recap: Grayslake Central

By Bill McLean, 10/30/23, 9:45AM CDT


Illinois prep basketball legend Jon Scheyer graduated from Glenbrook North in 2006. The school waited eight years to retire his jersey.

Fast forward to October, 2023: Grayslake Central’s soccer boys gathered for a final get-together on their pitch, days after their stunning 2-1 loss to Harvard in the Class AA Antioch Regional final on Oct. 21.

“That loss gutted and crushed (senior and 2022 Chicagoland Soccer All-State goalkeeper) Uriel Garcia Perez,” recalled Rams coach Keith Andersson, whose club had earned the top seed to Harvard’s ninth seed in the Grayslake Central Sectional. “Our program likes to hold a practice after a playoff loss, because it gives the guys an hour-and-a-half to hang out as a team one last time.

“They scrimmaged,” he added. “They laughed.”

The Rams turned in their uniforms afterward. Garcia Perez, who allowed only 10 goals on the season, waited his turn. When the time came, the keeper, who minded the net for Grayslake Central’s Class AA fourth- and third-place squads in 2021 and 2022 respectively, reached out to hand his no. 30 kit to Andersson. 

“Nope,” the coach said to his three-year starter. “Keep it, Uriel. No one is ever going to wear that number again at Grayslake Central.”

The humble, polite Garcia Perez stood still, speechless and unblinking.

“I did not think I was good enough for that honor,” he said after finishing with an itty-bitty 0.54 goals-against average for the 12-5-0 Rams.

It took Glenbrook North about 2,920 days to mothball Scheyer’s no. 23.

By comparison, Andersson needed a nanosecond to shelve Garcia Perez’s no. 30 for good.

“Uriel was an amazing goalkeeper for us,” the coach said, adding Garcia Perez has yet to commit to a college. “An a-maz-ing keeper. Back in my high school days (as a center back at Libertyville), keepers were basically shot-stoppers and little else. Today they have to be sweeper keepers or great on their feet in addition to having very good hands. A 70-plus-yard punt from Uriel wasn’t unusual. Sometimes his punts went from one 18 to the other 18.

“And he was an absolute ninja while making saves off point-blank shots. I had no idea how he stopped some of those. No idea. He’s talented enough to play D-I soccer and possibly professional soccer.”

Grayslake Central junior center back Anderson Chevrier quarterbacked the sturdy line in front of Garcia Perez.

“My goalkeeper was a truly special player in a Grayslake Central uniform,” Chevrier said. “He’s definitely going places.”

Grayslake Central — ranked no. 4 in Chicagoland Soccer’s pre-postseason Class AA Super 7 poll — sought to go to state for a third-straight year but fell four wins short. The program had never won a sectional before Andersson took over in 2021. He guided his first Rams crew to a Final Four berth that season.

The team seem destined to return this campaign, but things don’t always work out in sports.

“Harvard had our number, despite my assistant (Brad Nieder) watching close to 20 hours of film and figuring out the tendencies of every single Harvard player,” Andersson said. “We’re going to look at the tough loss as a teachable moment. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.

“Soccer is unlike so many other sports,” he continued. “Take football, for example, where plays are scripted. Soccer is more fluid, and it demands constant thinking from its players. Every single touch presents at least three options for the player possessing the ball. The fluidity of soccer makes it such an appealing sport.”

Five Rams — Garcia Perez, Chevrier, senior midfielder Mitchell Fein, senior forward/midfielder Nick Molochnikov and sophomore midfielder Ivan Sereno — made the Northern Lake County All-Conference Team. Grayslake Central finished third in the standings with a 5-2-0 record.

Fein paced the team in goals with 17, ahead of Sereno (seven), junior forward/midfielder/defender Prince Trawick (seven) and Molochnikov (three).

Fein and Sereno delivered seven assists apiece.

The Rams’ staff deployed Molochnikov at right back for the first few weeks of the season.

“He was not happy with us, not happy at all,” a chuckling Andersson said. “But, in part because of injuries, we needed his outstanding touch back there at the beginning of the season.”

Andersson returned Molochnikov to more familiar terrain, midfield, for the contest at Grayslake North on Sept. 12, when senior backup goalkeeper Brendan Kirkner executed the play of the match in the second half of a 1-0 victory.

Kirkner, who also plays forward, wasn’t anywhere near twine at the time of the highlight. His lengthy throw-in arrived in the heart of the six-yard box. Trawick found it and tapped the ball home for the difference-making play in the crosstown clash.

“What a moment that was for ‘Brendo,’” Andersson recalled. “I’ll never forget the excitement he showed after his assist. He lit up the place with his huge smile.”

Rams Nation has eight reasons to flash pearly whites next fall. That’s the number of returning starters Andersson and Co. will welcome back.

“Watch out for us next year,” said the Rams’ youngest co-captain Chevrier, who served with seniors Garcia Perez, Fein and Molochnikov). “This year we were hoping to repeat the success of our season last year, if not do better. We’re still upset about losing as early as we did in the playoffs. But I know we’ll be excited to begin postseason play next year because of the returning core and because of our hard-working and knowledgeable coaches.”

Chevrier, Andersson pointed out, ranked first among Rams in the unsung category.

“No stats for Anderson Chevrier,” Andersson said. “But what a season he had for us. What a rock back there.

“Great kid, great leader,” he added.

Chevrier, on the Grayslake Central tradition of convening for a practice after a playoff setback: “I like it. I don’t know of any other program that does that.” … Andersson’s three-year record at Grayslake Central is 45-15-5. … Grayslake Central also bid farewell to seniors Miles O’Sullivan (MF/F), Gerardo Gongora (MF), Matt Konieczny (F), Gabe Finley (MF), Samuel Carranza Mendoza (MF) and Carlos Villegas (MF). … The ongoing playoffs make the Rams wonder what might have been. “That would have been nice, preparing for a big game now instead of having to answer questions for a season recap,” Andersson said. … Fein and Sereno were Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List selectees last fall. … Garcia Perez’s statistics last fall: 15 shutouts and an 0.599 GAA. … Grayslake Central defeated Solorio 4-0 in last fall’s Class AA third place match. Sereno netted two goals. A back injury forced him to rest for essentially the entire offseason, Andersson noted. “When healthy, Ivan is one of the best players in the state,” he said. “He had to play through some pain this year.” … Grayslake Central played nine 3A schools this fall and held a 6-3-0 record against them. The wins included a 1-0 triumph against sectional champ Glenbrook North. Among the defeats were a 3-2 loss to sectional winner New Trier and a shootout loss against sectional finalist Round Lake. … At the top of Garcia Perez’s “Moments I’ll Never Forget” list is Grayslake Central’s 1-0 defeat of Notre Dame — a no. 1 sectional seed — in the 2021 AA Grayslake Central Supersectional. “The crowd that night, our home crowd, was so big, so loud, so supportive. Tough game.” Historic game, too. The Rams made their first state finals appearance in program history three days later.