“We expected to be here.”
That’s what Naperville North coach Jim Konrad said in the postgame press conference after the Huskies knocked off Glenbrook North 5-2 in the Class 3A third place game on Nov. 4 at Hoffman Estates High School.
The comment speaks to the high standards the program has set – and maintained – over the past four decades. Konrad has been a mainstay in the program since 1985, first as a player under Dave Bucher, then as an assistant coach to Bucher and finally as head coach following his mentor's retirement in 2002.
North’s final win of the season did more than cap off an outstanding 23-2-3 campaign. It also was Konrad’s 367th victory as a head coach, tying him with Bucher for the most in school history. He did it in three fewer seasons.
Konrad now has won a trophy as a player, two trophies and a state championship as an assistant coach and now five trophies, including three state titles, as a head coach.
This was North’s first team to take home the third place trophy. The Huskies did it with the youngest lineup Konrad has ever fielded. Magnificent midfielder Hindo Allie was the only senior starter.
Allie wasn’t around for the season opener because he was playing for Sierra Leone in the U18 African Nations Cup UK in London, where he started both games and scored a goal.
The Huskies lost to West Chicago 5-2 without him, but would not lose again until a 1-0 semifinal defeat to Lyons in the state semifinals.
In between was one of the best streaks in program history, a 25-game unbeaten skein that saw the Huskies go 22-0-3 against their typically stiff schedule.
Junior forwards Jaxon Stokes and Noah Radeke were a delight to watch, turning in two of the best individual seasons in program history. The duo worked off each other to perfection. Stokes led the team in scoring 29 goals and 11 assists. Radeke had 22 goals and 20 assists, becoming the second player in North history to reach the rarified 20-20 club.
Jon Hall, who bagged a school-record 37 goals to go with 21 assists in 1985, is the only other Huskie to achieve that feat. But he did it in a much different era, when the level of play wasn’t nearly as high as it is today.
Stokes’ 29 goals tie him for fourth on the single-season school scoring list, while Radeke is sixth on that list and third on the single-season assists ledger, behind Hall and Jack Barry, who set the mark of 22 in 2017.
“Obviously, the stats show how good he is going into goal,” Konrad said of Radeke. “He’s such a big kid; he’s shifty. He doesn’t move like other guys so he’s tough to defend. He’s big enough that if he gets you on his hip, you’re in trouble.
“I think what’s even more impressive about Noah is last night we battle Lyons and he wins 20 head balls, and against Naperville Central he wins 30 head balls (in the 1-0 Plainfield North Sectional title win Oct. 28). Every game we play he’s willing to run back. He fights and wins a ball, and he’s not a prima donna, which really makes him stand apart is he works.
“And then I would say the same thing for Stokes. Even though they both want to be the goal-scorer, you can see that they’re there for each other. Noah is quick to pass the ball to Stokes and vice versa.”
Stokes became just the ninth player in program history, and just the second since 1997, to score four goals in a game when he did it against Benet at the Best of the West Tournament on Sept. 2. Hours later, Radeke recorded a hat trick in a 5-0 win over Naperville Central in the tourney final on the same field.
The pair were both shutout by Lyons in the state semifinals, but they bounced back against Glenbrook North. Stokes had a goal and two assists, while Radeke had a goal and one assist. Not surprisingly, Radeke got the assist on the Stokes strike.
The win over Glenbrook North was noteworthy for another reason. Konrad was able to thread the needle on his twin desires of winning the game while getting everyone playing time in what for many senior reserves was their last high school game.
In addition to Allie, Konrad started seniors Grant Montanari, Joel Ruderman, Ryne Gaccione, Ryan Paltzer, Jackson Clarke, Dillon Clark and Ryan Anderson. They all played heavy minutes in the first half and played well. The Huskies led 1-0 at halftime on an own-goal created by offensive pressure.
“In this game we always try to celebrate all the kids,” Konrad said. “All the boys worked so hard all year, it’s nice to get a chance to get everybody in the game.
“With that said, obviously we want to win, too. So, I’m proud of the way the boys responded today after a tough loss last night especially the second half of the third place game which I thought was more like us all season.”
With no hope of advancement and their state title hopes dashed, many players lack motivation and enthusiasm in the third place game. But the Huskies shined.
“Obviously, it’s tough being in this game,” Radeke said. “We wanted to win yesterday, but we knew we had to come here and at least get the result that we wanted.
“After the first game, our mood was down. I felt like it picked up after, and we just kept working and got a few more in and ended how we wanted to.”
Indeed, it ended on a high note as Stokes set up Allie for a riveting 30-yard laser that extended North’s lead to 4-1. It was the fifth goal of the season for Allie, a natural attacking midfielder who sacrificed for the team by playing defensive midfielder this season. The goal came on the final shot of his prep career.
Not to be outdone, Ruderman bagged the last goal of the Huskies season 42 seconds later with 2:34 left in the match. It was the 85th and final goal of the year for Naperville North. Stokes assisted that one, too.
“I haven’t scored this season, and Jaxon is dribbling down the sidelines. I saw an opening,” Ruderman said. “I knew Jaxon would get the ball to me, so I just had to be in the right place and luckily the ball bounced over the goalie’s head.”
It was a fitting reward for a member of a bench mob, which gets little publicity but plays a vital behind-the-scenes role.
“All the seniors, we just like to build on the culture,” Ruderman said. “We’re always pumping up our teammates, if even we’re not going in.
“We make sure the subs are getting ready and if there is a water break, making sure the kids are getting water. It’s a culture that we bring.”
The roster extends far beyond the big guns up-front. Tony Flores contributed five goals and four assists, Niko Ladas had five goals and five assists, Josh Pederson chipped in five goals and three assists and Andrew Hebron added three goals, two of which came in the playoffs.
Defenders Connor Hanrahan and Colin McMahon both had five assists. Juan Carlos Hernandez-Moreno came up with two goals and four assists, and Sam Hess, the sophomore who switched from midfield, had two goals and an assist as a centerback anchoring the backline in front of sophomore goalkeeper Jack Bouska, a varsity rookie who allowed only 16 goals in 28 games.
While these Huskies missed capturing the program’s fifth state title, they did leave with a unique honor, one Konrad mentioned to them before their final outing.
“I played and lost in this game as a junior in high school,” Konrad said. “So that was a little motivation for the boys – let’s do something no one’s done before, win that third place trophy if we can’t win the first place one.”
And while each season is different and opponents will be even hungrier to stop them, the Huskies seemed poised to run it back in 2024 with a roster that returns 10 starters. Konrad is optimistic.
“There’s a mood of next year we’re going to get them,” Konrad said. “We said today is the first game of next year.
“We’re going to celebrate the seniors tonight. At the same time, we’ll use it as a springboard for next year. The boys did that.”