Way back when practice/tryouts started on Aug. 7, most everyone expected another solid New Trier campaign in 2023, despite the fact there were a lot of unknowns.
No one expected the blockbuster season that ended with the program’s fourth state title.
The Trevians began the year in great style with seven-straight wins and the title of its Northside College Showcase. Except for a speed bump in games nos. 8-10, manager Matt Ravencraft’s club never took its foot off the gas. New Trier (23-1-2) finished the season with a 16-game win streak that culminated in a powerful 3-1 win over Lyons to lift the big trophy for the fourth time in program history.
"There is so much tradition and history with New Trier soccer,” said Ravenscraft, who after eight years in charge has a remarkable 132-26-19 overall record. “I knew that when I came in. I was fortunate to play at Wheaton College, which was a program (like New Trier) that always had a target on its back wherever we went.
"I am very fortunate to have Augie Fontanetta as our athletic director. He had a lot of trust in me as a new guy. In addition, with men like Jim Burnside, Craig Fairbairn, Pete Collins, Sandy Swan and others, there were so many individuals to go to with questions and for advice."
Ravenscraft, who teaches Spanish, said following in the footsteps of legends Tony Schinto (24 years, 299 wins, four trophies in six state appearances) and Fairbairn (21 years, 341 wins, two titles, four overall trophies from six finals visits), was a bit overwhelming at the start.
Those days are long past.
"(Ravenscraft) is the face of the program in my opinion," said senior Ian Vichnick, who along with teammates Kevin Farina and Liam Myers proudly wore the captains’ armbands this fall. “He always has a level head about him, and he's that calming presence we all need. It's important to him that we live up to the high values that are set in order for us to be a strong team and better persons.”
"One of the big reasons for the success of this program is the great staff that we have," began Farina, whose three brothers Jeffrey, Spencer and most recently JoJo previously wore the Trevians kit. Spencer and Jeffrey went on to play collegiate soccer at Notre Dame. JoJo is now in grad school at Duke.
"No doubt Ravenscraft is the leader of this program," continued Farina, who now holds family bragging rights for playing and scoring in a state final and taking home the top prize. “He just runs the show perfectly: always organized; willing to listen to players; and is just the perfect person to be in charge.
"(Ryan) Loris is a great assistant, our tactician, who's always there breaking things down on film. He helps us prepare to defend set pieces and dead balls, while directing us when we have those opportunities.
"Vandy (Chris VanDenBerg) is perhaps the soul of our team. He is a great assistant, and the one who is our vocal leader. He’s the guy who gets the pre-match hype up and running with inspirational speeches.”
"Loris and Vandy deserve so much credit for the success of our program. I am honored to work alongside them," said Ravenscraft, who took over in 2016. He replaced Wes Molyneaux, who was the keeper on the 1999 Trevians state third place team for Fairbairn.
New Trier, circa 2023, was in scintillating form heading into the postseason following a challenging fixture list, which included its daunting Central Suburban League South Division schedule.
The team grew accustomed to its success but did not take it for granted.
"I always felt you learn as you go," said Ravenscraft. “Something we always told our guys was to improve one percent each time we train and play.”
"None of the few returning players knew what to expect this fall," began Liam Myers. “We lost nearly all from our first 11, and 15-16 guys from our roster.
"We had a very good preseason. We began to build strong relationships with each other, and we began to click as a team.
"I always knew we would be strong along the back, and there would be plenty of depth. But when Aidan (O'Neill) returned from club, he was that missing piece that we needed. Then I felt like we just might have a long run in us."
O'Neill, who will play next fall at Northwestern, led the Trevians in scoring with 20 goals and nine assists. His flair, creativity and ability to create moments of magic completed the puzzle.
"We knew Aidan would bring so much quality and experience with him when he decided to come back to play his senior year with us," said Ravenscraft. “What I didn't know was he was so athletic, amazing with and without the ball, capable of scoring big goals for us and willing to put his body on the line defending, tracking back and playing with a lot of heart and grit. He was a terrific teammate as well.”
"Once I made by decision to play for Northwestern, the pressure was off," said O'Neill. “So having the opportunity to come back to New Trier for my final year to play with my friends and the school made a lot of sense.
"This season could not have turned out better. We had a great team and coaching staff. I feel very fortunate to be back at such a great time in program history."
New Trier hinted at its quality from the start of the season. After a 2-1 win at Conant in the CSL/MSL Challenge, the team entered its Northside College Showcase. The Trevians have always invited top clubs to the tournament including Lyons, which won the 2022 event.
New Trier outshined four opponents, allowed only two goals and toppled Round Lake 3-0 in the final.
"Starting out the season with a win in our opener over Conant, then playing well in our tournament was a real plus for us to get a few wins under our belt, especially with so many new players on our roster," said Farina.
Farina, O'Neill, Vichnick, and senior keeper Shafer Brahm were selected to the all-tournament team. Junior Terry Thomas shared the the time between the pipes throughout the season.
Nonconference victories over eventual CSL North Division champion Niles North, then Niles West made it seven-consecutive victories to begin the season.
Then a trio of home results threw a wet blanket over the team’s momentum.
A late spot-kick drew the Trevians level with a very good side from Hinsdale Central at Robert Naughton Field in a 2-2 draw Sept. 9.
A 2-1 defeat to league rival Glenbrook North on Sept. 11 was followed by a 1-1 draw against Maine South three days later. The results put the Trevians at a surprising 0-1-1 in league play.
To a man, the loss to Glenbrook North was the result that most rattled the cages of the Trevians.
"We were kind of sailing along, playing some pretty good soccer, until we struggled to defend their set piece chances, especially long throws," began varsity newcomer Harrison Hahner, who became part of a superb backline trio alongside Farina and Myers.
"We spent so much time working on defending dead balls after that loss. In fact, our entire training regimen became more intense.
"That loss to GBN played a large part in the motivation for us when we played them in our Friday (Nov. 3) state semifinal."
"That was a tough three-game stretch for us, but if there is such a thing as a good loss (then) it was the 2-1 result with GBN that helped turn around our season," added Farina.
"Those of us who were on the team last year were super angry when drew back-to-back to Glenbrook South and then GBN late in the season to end our chances of a CSL South title.
"We let it get away from us once again this year, but we did a very good job of putting that disappointment behind us and just moving on, which I feel said a lot about the mental strength of this team."
"We all paid more attention to the little things after that GBN loss," added Myers. “Our training was more intense. We studied harder during film sessions, and our focus was much stronger as well.”
"There were important lessons to be learned from that GBN loss," said Vichnick.
"There was a definite attitude change among all of us. From that point forward, we were all locked into our training and film sessions. The intensity went way up, and we concentrated more on recovery time as well.
"The great thing about this team is we never would show any panic, even after those three games and later on when we maybe went down a goal or we were not playing at a level we needed to."
The team turned around its form with a solid 3-0 win over new division foe Deerfield and a hard-fought away victory at longtime league rival Evanston (3-2) before a 2-0 result against Glenbrook South earned the Trevians a share of second place in the division.
"That away win at Evanston really helped prepare us for the second time we went there in sectionals," opined Ravenscraft. "The atmosphere there is amazing -- big crowd and a great opponent to play with so much at stake."
The Trevians were sharp against their last five opponents. They posted comfortable victories and outscored the competition 19-3 to enter the postseason on a roll.
The regional opener went smoothly with another win over Niles West (7-0). But from there on out, the character and fortitude of the Trevians were on display as each contest proved tougher than the last.
New Trier needed a brilliant finish on an overhead bicycle effort from O'Neill to equalize 1-1 against Taft in the New Trier Regional final before claiming a 4-2 advantage in pens. The senior quartet of O'Neill, Farina, Vichnik and Myers were perfect from the spot in the Trevians only shootout of the season.
"That goal against Taft was a memorable one this season for me," said O'Neill.
"The ability to be resilient in that game with Taft was so important in our ability to continue to stay alive in the postseason," added Ravenscraft.
New Trier responded once again to adversity after conceding the opener to Evanston in its sectional semifinal.
O'Neill's double, and a smart finish from Hoover cemented a spot in the final against Leyden.
"Our senior leadership was key this season, especially in the postseason when they helped us stay in games and win," said a proud Ravenscraft.
"Calyx as a sophomore came through in big moments when we needed it," said O'Neill. “He had 12 goals on the season and played like a veteran all year long."
"We knew Calyx was a talented player," added Vichnick. “But he just kept improving all along the way and seemed to have unending confidence out there for us.”
Hoover added seven assists, and two game-winning goals to his impressive resume in his first year with the big club.
In the sectional final, the Trevians conceded the opener just before the intermission against a top-flight club from Leyden, but senior forward Ethan Green equalized before another O'Neill game-winner, his third of the postseason and eighth of the season, ensured a 2-1 win.
Five days later in the St. Charles North Supersectional, Hoover gave his mates a 1-0 lead when he bagged an early second half strike. St. Charles East drew even after the hour.
Farina found the back of the net less than a minute later to propel the Trevians into the Final Four for the first time since 2009.
Once there, senior midfielder Oliver Fernandez (six goals, eight assists) and Hoover scored on either side of the half to send the Trevians into the final following a 2-0 payback victory over Glenbrook North.
"Guys like my good friend Harrison (Hahner) and (senior forward) Nicky Mekhitarian (eight goals) made big jumps to play their first year with the varsity,” said Farina. “They earned their spots along with Hoover and (junior midfielder) Gabe Yoder and others. They kept up their great play all season long to help us get into the tournament and eventually the final."
Myers and Vichnick agreed the team didn't need any extra motivation against Glenbrook North. Their coach’s mantra “Win the Day” was on their minds.
New Trier was masterful in the title game against Lyons. The Trevians were all over the Lions and scored twice within a five-minute span to hold a 2-0 advantage in the 17th minute. Vichnick scored in the 13th minute on a 30-yard rocket after a long O’Neill carry, then junior midfielder Cole Driscoll finished from 18 yards.
Farina tripled the Trevians advantage just before the hour with a great solo effort after a long drive down the middle of the field, before Lyons pulled one back 14 minutes before time.
"It was an unbelievable feeling when the final whistle ended the game," said O'Neill.
"I am not sure it has all sunk in," added Vichnick. “It's surreal and unreal, and right now I know that I am on the top of the world."
Added Myers: "As the season went on, and especially in the playoffs after some really big wins over great opponents, I feel like we were invincible, but not overconfident. It's such a great feeling to be state champions.”
"Everyone put in the extra work,” Hahner said. “When we began to really jell as a team, I felt like we could have a chance at the end, The feeling right now is amazing."
Farina had a variety of emotions after that final whistle.
"It's awesome, and exciting,” he said. “But like a lot of the guys, I'm not sure it has totally hit me yet. On the other hand, it's kind of sad knowing this was the last high school game of my career. I’ll miss being part of an amazing bunch of players and good friends.”
Success in soccer is built on a solid foundation. A reliable, and sturdy backline is an essential commodity when building a winning side, particularly in the Trevians 3-6-1 formation.
Harrison, Farina and Myers along the back were superb in front of its terrific one-two goalkeeper combination of Brahm and Thomas.
With Ravenscraft deploying double 6s (Vichnick and Yorder), double 10s (O'Neill and Driscoll), and the lone man up-top (Hoover), the 3-6-1 formation unnerved the opposition with the combination of the Trevians free-flowing attack coupled with always having that extra man in the middle of the park. It proved to be a key to the Trevians success.
"It's kind of a unique formation, because you need to rely heavily on your wing backs to go box-to-box in order to give us width,” said Ravenscraft, who grew up in Lombard and starred at Glenbard East and later at D III power and 2006 national runnerup Wheaton College. “They worked hard as we all grew to appreciate how much that formation would eventually mean to our success.
"I've learned a lot since coming to New Trier, and I've continued to grow as a manager.
"During my time here, we've had some very talented teams who have not been able to accomplish what this team has done.
"I was very fortunate to have a bunch of young men who motivated each other, worked and trained hard for each other and did all the right things in order to give us an opportunity to challenge for a state title. I can honestly say this group was ready when they needed to be, and I am very proud of all of them."
Farina continues to sift through his collegiate options. Myers, who suffered a radius fracture to his left wrist in the state semifinal contest, made the decision to continue playing next fall at Bowdoin College in New Brunswick, Maine.
"The combination of great academics, and soccer made for an easy choice to play out east next season," said Myers, who will likely major in biology with an eye on a medical career. The wrist injury did not keep him out of the starting lineup in the championship match.
The 2023 edition of New Trier boys soccer ensconced itself in the school’s record book. The team compiled the third one-loss season in the 50 years since the IHSA sanctioned the sport. The 23 wins is tied for the second most victories in a season in school history and the winning percentage of .9230 ranks third.