After advancing to the IHSA Finals for the second-straight year in 2010 and finishing in second place that season, Peoria Christian has had to wait a bit before sending a team to collect its third state trophy.
Coach Cory Hynek's 23-4-2 Chargers hope that the third time's the charm when they make their return to the finals for Thursday's 5:30 p.m. semifinal match against North Shore Country Day at Hoffman Estates High School.
Peoria Christian earned its spot in the Final Four this season with a 4-1 victory over Johnsburg on Oct. 28 in the Illinois Valley Central Supersectional in Chillicothe.
The Chargers took fourth in their state debut in 2009. The following season they beat Columbia 1-0 before losing 1-0 to Lisle in the title match
After losing two of their final three regular-season matches, the first of which came against fellow semifinalist University (Normal) on Oct. 2, Peoria Christian has been on a playoff roll. The team has defeated its five opponents by a 25-3 margin. The smallest margin of victory has been three goals.
In the supersectional win, sophomore midfielder Jacob Walton and sophomore defender Trae Brickner scored for an early 2-0 lead. After Johnsburg’s lone goal shortly before the break, senior midfielder Jo Yokota and junior midfielder Quinton Hynek completed the scoring.
It was the 22nd time this season that the Chargers had scored three or more goals, including the first matches in the postseason. On 12 occasions, the squad collected seven or more goals. Not surprisingly, Peoria Christian has four 20-goal scorers.
Senior forward Caden Schmidgall leads the way with 24 goals and 12 assists. Sophomore midfielder Colson Below is next with 22 goals and 14 assists. Yokota has collected 21 goals and 29 assists, and senior forward Jameson Fisher has 20 goals and 14 assists.
Walton has contributed 18 goals and eight assists.
Hynek, whose dad is the head coach, has the most assists of anyone in the Final Four with 41 to go with nine goals. Senior forward Isai Zavala also has nine goals. Sophomore defender Myles Zimmerman has seven assists, as does Brickner, who has six goals.
Junior goalkeeper Josh Walton, who also is listed as a forward, has made 75 saves and recorded an 0.76 GAA in 29 matches. Sophomore Eli Sanderson (10 saves) has an 0.07 GAA and has played in 14 matches.
Other players who've haven’t missed a game this season are are senior defender Elijah Chism, junior forward J.N. Kniep and sophomore midfielder Josiah Kniep. Chism, Hynek and Below are the team's three captains.
Several Chargers received postseason awards from the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association. Hynek earned All-State honors, Below and Yokota are all-section selections, Schmidgall won a section sportsmanship award; Chism made the all-section all-academic team, and the entire team shared the Section 8 Sportsmanship Cup with Dunlap.
Coach Hynek, who is also the school's athletic director, owns a 254-107-39 record during his 17 seasons of leading the program. He overall mark is 277-125-45, which includes two years at Washington (Ill.). Peoria Christian's assistant coaches are Paul Hauter, Aaron Gallup and Corey Curtis.
This season's 23 victories exceed by three the number of wins that the Chargers had after their 2009 and 2010 state appearances. This was the eighth regional title for the program since 2014. The program fell one win shy of state appearances in 2014 and 2015.
Peoria Christian had an impressive run throughout September where it had winning streaks of eight and six matches around a 2-1 defeat to Class AA Morton (Ill.) during a 14-1-0 stretch from Sept. 2-29.
"Going back to state is an awesome feeling and accomplishment for the guys," Cory Hynek said. "I told them I didn’t want to tell stories about the last teams to go to state. I want this group to be the group I talk about for years with what they've done. They bought in and have been playing our best soccer this postseason. Personally, having my son on the team and making this run with him is so special.
"We’ve been able to have a lot of different players step up and do the goal scoring for us this year when needed. It’s a great strength of this team. Also, the ability to defend well in numbers have been key to slowing opponents down this postseason. The thing I love most about this team is how they bought into our theme for the year, ‘AIM’. Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9). That’s been the AIM in every practice and game, and I feel it’s brought us together."