The sequence is still fresh.
With just over a minute elapsed into the first overtime of the Class 3A state title game last November in Frankfort, Warren’s Nick Wegrzynowicz controlled a pass from Daniel Szczepanek and drilled a shot inside the far post. The goal gave the Blue Devils a 2-1 double-overtime victory over Naperville Central that marked the first state championship in any sport for the school.
It vanquished the disappointment of the previous year when Warren lost both its state semifinal and third-place game on penalty kicks.
With the start of a new season, how do the Blue Devils top themselves? As the last team standing, Warren, which is 43-8-6 the last two years, is the king of the sport until proven otherwise.
“Success breeds success,” sixth-year Warren coach Jason Ahonen said. “We’re a school with 2,200 boys, and we had our biggest tryouts ever with 150 kids.’’
Szczepanek, Wegrzynowicz, Sean Kirwan and Auner Solis have all graduated. “Offensively, we’re going to look a lot different,” Ahonen said.
Still, Warren returns five starters and 12 players from that 21-win state title team. Senior midfielder Rafa Macias (five goals, four assists), junior midfielder Nick Haas (four goals, three assists) and senior midfielder Mickey Cain are the team’s offensive catalysts.
Senior Karl Bappert is one of the state’s top defenders. Elijah Parker, a versatile senior, is capable of playing either on the backline or moving to the middle. Star keeper RJ Hill, a rangy and athletic 6-3 junior, registered 120 saves last year and recorded eight shutouts.
“Our defense is very solid, and I think it will keep us in games until we find ourselves offensively,” Ahonen said.
The team’s nucleus is further upgraded with players returning to the program after playing club soccer last year. Senior Andrew Schulz offers another dynamic defender. Ahonen also signaled out two new playmakers, junior midfielder Jackson McKearnan and sophomore forward Lucas Geib.
The players are not satisfied. “The way I look at it, the state championship we got last year, nobody can take that away from us,” Macias said. “Everybody loses players, but we have some good young talent, people that are good on the ball. We’re excited. We’re playing with the attitude of going after another title.”
The new year promises a wide open race with no clear-cut favorite for the state title. St. Charles East, which fell 2-1 to the Blue Devils in the supersectional, received a big blow when forward T.C. Hull, who scored 31 goals last year, suffered a torn ACL in the offseason. Deprived of their star, the Saints must reload around seven other returning starters.
“The thing with soccer is that it all comes down to how quickly you jell as a group,” Ahonen said. “We have a group that hates losing more than they like winning, and that’ a great attitude to have.”