Once a striker, Maine East’s Alex Lulek shines on defense

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SKOKIE — Time after time last week, Alex Lulek single-handedly thwarted the Niles North boys soccer team’s scoring chances.

From his position at center back in the team’s 4-4-2 formation, the Maine East senior won multiple matchups in his team’s half of the field. Each one seemingly was better than the last, and each one kept the Blue Demons in a scoreless tie.

Around the midpoint of the second half on Sept. 16, Lulek tracked down a ball near Maine East’s corner and earned possession from two Vikings. Minutes later, he stole the ball from Adrian Coardos and then won a 50-50 ball from the Niles North senior forward, the leading scorer on the Vikings.

“He’s our anchor out there,” Maine East coach Jeff Bishop said of the three-year varsity player and team captain. “He’s strong and smart, the whole package.

“There aren’t enough good things to say about him.”

Lulek is a relative newcomer to his position. After playing forward as recently as his sophomore season, Lulek made the switch to defense before his junior year.

At the urging of his Chicago-based club, Wisla, Lulek was placed on defense for an indoor game. He said it was primarily in an effort to slow down Rami Dajani, a former star forward for Maine East and now a sophomore at Alabama-Birmingham.

“Everything clicked,” Lulek said. “I think people were surprised by how well I played against him.”

Lulek said his experience at forward helped him with the transition.

“Having played striker, I know the moves and tactics of that position,” he said. “I know what they are thinking and how they play.”

Bishop said one of Lulek’s best qualities is his ability to win balls in the air. He came out on top every time during the Blue Demons’ 2-0 loss to Niles North on Sept. 16.

“I’ve never seen him lose one,” Bishop said.

According to Lulek, there’s not much technique in it, only that it requires toughness and confidence.

“You can’t hesitate for those,” Lulek said. “I just go in thinking I’m going to get them all.”

Maine East entered the week 4-6-1, and Bishop said he can’t imagine a defense without Lulek in the back.

“It’s my position now,” Lulek said. “It’s a stronger fit for me as a player, and I wouldn’t want to switch back to striker.”

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