Boys Soccer: Larkin looks to make school history
By Erik Jacobsen email@example.com November 4, 2013 5:50PM
Larkin's Tito Velazquez handles the ball Saturday against McHenry in the Class 3A Huntley Sectional championshp match. | Dave Shields/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 6, 2013 6:18AM
Football might be over for all of the high schools in the Elgin area, but fútbol season still is going strong thanks to a surprising postseason run for Larkin’s boys soccer team.
The Royals finished the regular season with a sub-.500 record and weren’t on the radar coming into the playoffs, but they are squarely in the spotlight now as one of the final eight teams standing in the Class 3A state tournament going into Tuesday night’s supersectional showdown against Lake Park at Millennium Field in Streamwood.
Larkin’s 1-0 win over McHenry on Saturday delivered the program its first sectional title after it lost in all seven of its previous appearances in sectional finals. It also marked the school’s first sectional championship in any sport since the girls soccer team accomplished the feat in 2006.
Now the Royals are focused on raising the bar even higher. A win Tuesday will send them into this weekend’s state finals at Hoffman Estates and force room to be made in the school’s trophy case, which so far is empty of any state hardware.
“No team from Larkin has ever gone to the state finals, so we’re one win away from doing something that has never happened at the school,” Larkin coach Ken Hall said.
The lack of a single state trophy in team sports is somewhat surprising given the strong athletic tradition at Larkin that dates to the school’s opening in 1962. The Royals did come close on a few occasions, with the football team losing in the state semifinals in 1979 and the baseball team bowing out in the state quarterfinals in 1991.
This year’s soccer team seemed an unlikely candidate to make history as recently as two weeks ago. Four postseason wins later the Royals own a 12-10-4 record and are eager to continue a run few saw coming.
“We’re somewhat surprised to be here given the whole season we’ve had, but at the same time, ever since we were freshmen we have been saying we could go far our senior year,” senior Tito Velazquez said. “I think what came into play during the playoffs is we started playing our hearts out, and that is getting us through.”
Larkin’s roller-coaster ride of a season began with an upturn as it went 4-0-1 in its first five matches, allowing only one goal along the way. The team then hit a lull, and it didn’t help when goalkeeper Leo Perez suffered a broken arm.
The Royals’ two Upstate Eight crossover games provide a perfect microcosm for the season. They beat Metea Valley, which finished in first place in the UEC Valley, but lost to last-place West Chicago.
The postseason has included a few harrowing moments. Larkin handed Dundee-Crown its only loss of the season in the regional semifinals and then defeated South Elgin for its fourth regional title in five years, with both matches being decided on penalty kicks. The Royals shut out their two sectional opponents and have surrendered only one goal during the playoffs thanks to the strong play of backup goalie Aldair Dominguez.
“This team worked really hard to get better throughout the season,” Hall said. “There is a little continuity because these guys have been playing club together since they were little kids, so that’s a part of it.
“To be honest, when you get this far sometimes you have to be a little lucky and have bounces go your way, and defensively we’ve stepped up our game more than anything.”
Hall is in his 19th year as a teacher at Larkin and 15th year as a soccer coach, and he’ll be the first to admit he has had more talented teams in the past.
None have been three wins away from a state championship, though, which is creating a good deal of excitement in the hallways and throughout the Larkin community.
“It’s exciting to think about, but I like to just think about the next game coming up,” senior Freddy Alvarez said. “There’s still a long way to go.”
Added Velazquez: “This school doesn’t really pay that much attention to soccer, but (Monday) it seemed like everybody was congratulating us and happy for us to be in the last eight. We’re proud to be the first ones (to win a sectional), and I’m pretty sure everybody else is proud of us, too.”