DEKALB – Even though Huntley made its longest postseason run ever last season, winning a regional championship before losing its next match, coach Kris Grabner thought his team underachieved.
Huntley returned all but two starters this season, and after winning Wednesday's Class 3A DeKalb Regional semifinal, 7-0, over Rockford East, the Red Raiders' expectations go a bit further than Saturday's regional championship rematch against DeKalb.
“Last year was a learning experience,” senior Eduardo Gonzalez said. “We knew [entering this season] we had what it takes to win state, and anything less than that is not enough.”
That run began with Wednesday's blowout win over the E-Rabs (2-12-2), in which Huntley (21-2-1) scored all of its goals in the first half.
Six minutes in, senior Niko Mihalopoulos headed a cross from Jack Bessey across the six-yard box to Eduardo Gonzalez, who found the lower corner.
Just one minute passed before Mihalopoulos dished out his second assist of the game, finding Bessey with a through ball up the middle, and the freshman buried Huntley's second goal.
Bessey scored his second in the 27th minute, when he finished off a low cross from David Pardo, and Gonzalez scored seven minutes later when he gathered a clearance and finished to the lower corner.
Mihalopoulos scored a pair of goals before the end of the half off of through balls from Matthew Kitsis and Gonzalez, and Amir Dajani scored off of a cross from Michael Zembrzuski.
Despite the result, Grabner wasn't exactly thrilled with his team's sharpness.
“I thought we were actually a little sloppy,” Grabner said. “We found the back of the goal, which was good, but I don't think we really played crisp soccer like we're going to have to against [DeKalb].”
With 13 seniors on his team, Grabner has grown to expect a high level of fluidity to his team's games. The chemistry this season, players attest, has improved tremendously this year, and Grabner thinks that's enough to take this team to the next level.
“It's been great to have that type of maturity out there. They've played together so long that they know what each other is doing,” Grabner said. “The skill is there, the depth is there, the goalkeeping is there. It's just a matter of winning the games.”
Huntley has a shot to add its second postseason trophy on Saturday.
While they're not necessarily looking past DeKalb, they view the regional as one step in a long journey that will end with some bigger hardware.
“The expectation is to go all the way,” Mihalopoulos said. “We want that state championship … A lot of these seniors, we've played together since we were kids. We know our strengths, weaknesses, we know each other like brothers. We look sharper now.”