Boys lacrosse: St. Charles East’s Ryan Wilko is the 2023-2024 Kane County Chronicle Player of the Year

Junior had 60 goals, 36 assists junior season

St. Charles East junior Ryan Wilko runs with the ball in a semifinal game against Burlington Central in May 2024.

ST. CHARLES – Ryan Wilko is a big fan of finding the back of the net by any means necessary for St. Charles East.

After finishing his sophomore year with 50 scores and 20 assists for the Saints, Wilko entered his junior season hoping to elevate his game and the team’s win total from the year before. But with numbers like that in his second high school season, opposing teams took notice and usually would set their focus on limiting the offensive threat with double coverage.

Wilko took notice, too. And he was not afraid to share the wealth.

“They came pretty fast my sophomore year, so I had to get rid of the ball really quick. But now, even in my junior year, they come with the double right away and usually that one more pass is wide open,” Wilko said. “Personally, I don’t think that goals mean anything more than the assists. If you can put a ball in the back of the net in any way, that’s a win for me.”

The junior finished the season with 60 goals and 36 assists, both career highs, to bring his point total to 96. He was named the DuKane Conference Player of the Year.

Considering his accolades, Wilko has been named the 2024 Kane County Chronicle Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.

“He’s definitely a special player and he’s just so reliable,” St. Charles East coach Mike Black said. “He’s always been a goal scorer, but he did it this year at a higher clip. He’s started to understand the varsity level and how to take his skill set and apply it to be successful on the field.

“But I think the biggest thing that made him special this year, while the goals are huge, is the assists. When the opposing defenses keyed in on him, his role in a game would change and he would be able to find the groove in his own game.”

When Wilko started taking lacrosse seriously in the eighth grade, he said his main focus was on trying to be the player who would shoot the ball whenever he got the chance. But after being named a captain as a sophomore – something Wilko said everyone thought was impossible – his philosophy on the game switched.

“I kind of shifted more into that leadership role on the field and off the field sometimes, too ... and I wanted to evolve with the game and go wherever people needed me. I wanted to be there and fill the role for them,” Wilko said.

Part of the reason for his statistical growth this season was a solid supporting cast surrounding him, especially fellow attacker Chase Isacson. The sophomore, who played opposite Wilko because he was left-handed, usually found himself on the receiving end of Wilko’s assists on his way to 50 goals on the season.

“[Isacson] glued right into our offense,” Wilko said. “He does a lot of dodging, which not a lot of guys from behind would like to do, so he can get his own goals. He also can communicate a lot on the field, so he’s moving around a lot and catching that one more pass and finishing close.”

The attacking duo combined for 110 of St. Charles East’s 216 goals on the season, which mostly came from players in a loaded junior class. Black said having players who aren’t selfish with the ball has been part of a big turnaround for the Saints.

“We all have those players that just shoot and score, but having a balanced offense has been much more effective,” Black said. “Having Ryan lead the attack and showing the younger players and developing players what makes a complete player shows how mature he is, too. And with him and the rest of the juniors having a whole other year left, we can start moving on to more technical concepts to grow our team game.”

With Wilko and a majority of his teammates entering their final season of lacrosse next year, Wilko said he has huge expectations for the team to come away with at least one shiny plaque next season.

“This is what me and Blake Skifstad have been talking about since our freshman year,” Wilko said. “We just want to win and push ourselves far into sectionals and win it and maybe even go somewhat far in the state championship. We have a stacked group of guys next year, the chemistry will be flowing once again and I’m super pumped for it.”

All-Area Team:

Easton Carriere, jr., defense, Kaneland; Daniel Connolly, sr., midfield, St. Charles North; Pierson Darling, sr., attack, Marmion; Ryan Fontana, so., goalie, Geneva; Dallas Hermann, jr., defense, St. Charles East; Chase Isacson, so., attack, St. Charles East; Adam Leatch, sr., attack, Kaneland; Jack Loughridge, sr., LSM, St. Charles North; Landon Miller, sr., defense, St. Charles East; Aidan McClure, so., defense, St. Charles North; Cameron Sexton, sr., midfield, Geneva; Blake Skifstad, jr., midfield, St. Charles East; Aiden Tutt, sr., attack, Batavia; Ryan Wilko, jr., attack, St. Charles East; Garret Wills, jr., attack, Kaneland