As always, spirits were high as Barrington prepared for the 2023 fall season.
And why not?
Manager Scott Steib welcomed back 10 from his 2022 club, which won four of its last five contests before falling in pens to Waukegan in the regional final at Barrington.
Steib along with co-captain Mattie Vitale were sure the Broncos would be a sturdy unit along the back. That’s always important to survive the rugged competition of the Mid-Suburban League.
Both felt if the club could find its way into the back of the net with consistency, the desire to finish near the top of the table could be met.
Alas, it was not to be.
"Last year we had some trouble scoring, but this year we had even more trouble," began Steib, who claimed his 400th win in his 25th season with the Broncos. He is drawing near the magic number of 500 career victories when the 60 wins he earned at the start his career at Lake Zurich are added to the total.
"We got ourselves close and in front of the net, but we lacked composure and the execution needed to finish our chances,” he continued.
"If we had maximized our opportunities and were able to finish some of those chances, then we add a couple of wins or draws along the way, our overall record is better, and we finish higher in the table."
For the record, the Broncos attempted 121 shots on frame but finished just 22. The team conceded 26 en route to an 8-12-3 overall record and 5-6-1 league mark.
"It wasn't for a lack of trying to create chances and opportunities," said Vitale, who played the six for his club in magnificent fashion during his final year in the Broncos program.
"Our guys worked hard to get us in position to score. We just were not as sharp as we needed to be in the final third.
"We found our rhythm in the last 5-6 games of the season. It showed in the way we attacked and created chances, especially in two of our last two games."
The Broncos ended the regular-season with a 5-0 win over Wheeling before a victory in pens (2-2, 8-7/9) over Glenbrook South that sent them into their regional final against Glenbrook North, the eventual fourth place team in Class 3A.
"I was proud of the boys during those last few games of the season, especially against GBN, where I thought we played and fought hard enough to win," said Steib.
"It was a strange season. We might have lost 5-6 games by conceding a PK.
"One or two of those PKs I am not sure were legit, but we had to take ownership. Hopefully the guys coming back will have learned from that."
One player back that both Steib and Vitale are thrilled to see return is sophomore Jack Ball, who alongside co-captain Logan Cidulka formed a very good partnership as the Broncos center backs.
"Jack is very athletic, and he was very willing to put the extra work in to become a great addition to the center of our backline," said Vitale. “In time, as his confidence grew, he became more involved in our attack. He also provided quality balls out of the back.”
"As a freshman, Jack was the defensive MVP of our JV team," added Steib. “In a short amount of time, he became really comfortable in the back with Logan. It showed in his decision-making and the way he handled himself at a very important position for us.”
Ball and freshman keeper Evan Ryder will be key figures next fall along with junior Nico Haussner, who was stationed on the outside of the Broncos backline.
"The adjustment to playing at the varsity level was a little difficult at the start of the season," said Ball. “Logan and Mattie are great leaders of this team, and they helped me in so many ways in order for me to play with confidence.”
Ball was in the first 11 on 18 occasions and played 1,367 minutes, fifth best on the club. Hausser (1,665), Cidulka (1,586), Vitale (1,579) and Andy Sfondilis (1,549), who played outside back opposite Hausser, ranked in front of him.
"(Coach) Steib is a great guy to have,” Ball said. “He made me feel comfortable playing as one of our center backs, and like I said, Logan and Mattie were just fantastic."
Ball was named all-MSL after the season along with Vitale. Cidulka and Vitale earned all-section honors from the IHSSCA.
"We're losing some very good players who have been on the varsity for 2-3 years," said Ball. “But I feel with Evan Ryder (five clean-sheets) in goal for us, Nico, myself and a few others, we can be really competitive next fall.”
"Evan is only the second freshman keeper since I've been here who has started for the varsity,” said Steib, who started Daniel Hasselbein in his first season in 2018. “Evan’s commitment to improve during the offseason means a lot to me and our program.”
Steib got a welcome surprise at the start of the season."(Junior midfielder) Brian Mazgaj was a great addition to our program. He elected to play club the last two years before joining us this fall. We were so glad that he did. He has spoken out that he loved being a part of our team."
Vitale added: "Mazgaj has a great shot, and he'll be a big part of the midfield next year.”
The coach added that sophomore midfielder Magdiel Magdaleno was another fine addition to the Broncos after he and his family moved into the district from Iowa.
Steib, a two-time Mid-Suburban League Manager of the Year and 2019 IHSSCA Hall-of-Fame inductee, suggests juniors Nico Herran, Cooper Kim and Patrick Tabb are ready to make their mark a year from now.
Vitale agrees that the Broncos will have a solid foundation.
“Cooper will be at 100 percent after ACL surgery,” he said. “Patrick Tabb has a lot of speed and now a year of experience playing with the varsity. Plus, Nico (Haussner) is back after helping make our backline the strength of the team.
"Having Evan Ryder around for the next three years is a big plus also."
Sfondilis, who was the recipient of the Fighting Bronco Award which recognizes heart and attention to the little things, will be missed as will 10 others in addition to Cidulka and Vitale.
Two seniors led the team in scoring: Kina Cullen connected six times; Philip Jackowski produced five goals.
Goalkeeper Charlie Field, midfielders Daniel Gawronski, Wilson Neuhauser, Kyle Krull, Justin Rebbeck and Vidhit Dureja, and defenders Jake Hackney and Adam Walocha saw action and earned the final varsity soccer letter of their prep careers this fall.
The Broncos suffered only the second sub-.500 mark of Steib’s run at Barrington the past season, but high school sports are about more than wins and losses.
"You always want to be better. But despite our final record, it was a terrific group of young men. I wish I could coach this team for another season," said Steib.
Vitale concluded: "I will take so many great memories from playing here.
"I have developed so many friendships with the guys and coaches. It has been just one big family for me.
"I've been even more fortunate to have someone like coach Steib to be around for the last three years.
"I got a taste of what type of man he is because my brother (Michael) played for him previously. Whether it's (in) class or when I see him at lunch or whenever, his passion for the game and just life is something I will always remember.
“He's made me a better soccer player but more importantly a better student and person."