St. Laurence opened the 2023-24 campaign with a strong 6-1-0 start, but then went 3-6-2 in its next 11 matches. The Vikings closed out regular-season play with a 9-7-2 record as they entered the IHSA Class AA playoffs.
After collecting five wins in the postseason, four by two goals or more, the Vikings are feeling good as they compete in their second Final Four. St. Laurence last appeared downstate in 2019 when they finished in fourth place.
Coach Jaime Alonso's 14-7-2 Vikings meet defending champions Notre Dame (Peoria) in the 3 p.m. semifinal Friday at Hoffman Estates High School.
St. Laurence, which has outscored its opponents 23-5 in the playoffs, earned its spot in the Final Four with a 3-1 victory over DePaul in the DeLaSalle Supersectional on Tuesday.
The Vikings moved in front in the game with a goal in the 62nd minute from senior midfielder Johnny Esparza. Senior forward Lalo Perez connected a short time later to make it 2-0. DePaul closed to within 2-1 and kept the pressure up before St. Laurence senior forward Diego Lugo finally ended the drama with a goal in the 80th minute.
The Vikings won the sectional, which also was at DeLaSalle, by defeating St. Ignatius 4-2 in the semifinals and 2022 Class AA fourth place finisher Solorio 2-1 for the championship.
The sectional wins avenged losses: a 4-3 defeat to Solorio suffered in last season's sectional final; and a 4-0 setback to St. Ignatius in Chicago Catholic League Blue Division play Sept. 19.
St. Laurence hosted regionals and won its sixth-consecutive title with a 7-1 victory over Latin.
Leading the Vikings in scoring are Esparza (17 goals, 19 assists), Lalo Perez (14 goals, 4 assists), Lugo (12 goals, 4 assists) and senior midfielder/forward Edgar Perez (10 goals, 8 assists). Senior midfielder Tristan Figueroa (7 assists) and senior defender/midfielder Clark Herrera (2 assists) have scored six times each, and sophomore midfielder Juan Hernandez recorded three tallies.
Sophomore goalkeeper Vin Diesi has been supported by junior defenders Matthew Suchecki and Frankie Martinez and senior defenders Gael Rangel, Lorenz Garcia and Herrera. The Vikings have recorded seven shutouts and allowed one goal six times.
Alonso is 50-15-8 in his third season of leading the program after taking over for Kyle Boekeloo, who led the Vikings in their first state trip.
St. Laurence players who earned IHSSCA sectional postseason honors were All-Section selection Edgar Perez, All-Section honorable mention pick Esparza, Sportsmanship Award winner Lugo and All-Academic recipient Rangel.
Team captains are Edgar Perez and Figueroa. The Vikings assistant coaches are Manny Cerritos, William Gaichas and Jarick Gonzalez.
"Feels great to be back downstate," Alonso said. "The boys have grown an enormous amount the last three months. We have really started to click the last few weeks, and we are finally starting to string together consecutive W’s.
"Our team has a dynamic attack. We have many different goal-scorers. Johnny Esparza, Diego Lugo and Edgar Perez have stepped up and been vital in our attack. Saul Garcia has been a big-time goal-scorer for us in the postseason and has anchored our midfield.
“Our backline has defended with tenacity and is a big factor in why we are among the last four teams in AA. Matthew Suchecki, Frankie Martinez, Gael Rangel, Lorenz Garcia and Clark Herrera have been massive in containing the opposition.”