In 2021, York was chasing its first state championship in program history to add to the school’s long and storied sports history.
The Dukes had a dominating season, winning 23 of their 25 games to capture the Class 3A state title with a 4-0 rout over Fremd. The Dukes had two big-time scorers – Jose Herrera and Kevin Gliatis – leading the charge to go with a stingy defense that included goalies Anthony Kroumov and Ricardo Torres.
This season, after losing 15 seniors from the state championship team, the Dukes have not missed a beat in their quest for a second straight title.
Herrera, a senior forward who scored 24 goals and tallied 11 assists last season, said the Dukes (10-0-3) understand the new season brought different challenges for the returning and first-time varsity players.
“From the start of the season, we knew we haven’t accomplished anything and needed to build a resume,” Herrera said. “We had a huge target on our back and still do, coming in as state champions, other schools just want the privilege to say ‘We beat the defending state champions’. It’s very different because last year everybody doubted us and never in millions of years would say, ‘York is going to win state’, so the difference is now we’ve got to show we’re the defending state champs and how are we going to perform with new players.”
York coach Jordan Stopka credited several players for leading the Dukes to an undefeated record through the first 13 games.
“Jose Herrera is now a captain and leading on the field and in practice,” Stopka said. “Joe Hernandez has shouldered the load in the middle of the pack for us with two new center midfielders joining him. Ryder Kohl has been absolutely phenomenal and a lynchpin to our success. He has been playing multiple important positions whenever we need him. He’s also scoring at a clip that would rival some forwards. He has been paramount. Diego Ochoa plays bigger and older than his age. He has been a blessing between the posts as a sophomore keeper.”
Stopka said the coaching staff sent a clear message to the players to brush aside their egos to maintain a strong push to win a second consecutive championship. The lone blemishes on the Dukes’ record occurred in draws to highly ranked Lake Park (6-5-3), Elgin (12-0-3) and St. Charles East (12-2-1). York crushed Hinsdale Central 5-1 on Sept. 27.
“We haven’t been without our struggles, but the key is strong leadership and players willing to take expanded roles from the year before,” Stopka said. “Our returning players have done a great job in welcoming the new guys and keeping expectations high yet egos low. We thought we had a bit of an ego problem right after tryouts but we sorted that out quickly. This is 2022, not 2021.”
Besides adding another championship to York’s storied sports programs, Stopka said the program gained added benefits from last season’s success.
“The championship certainly injected some more life into the program as our summer camps grew again this year to the biggest numbers since I’ve been here,” Stopka said. “The largest increase was with the youth kids in grade school, which shows a buzz at the younger ages that can hopefully carry on when they grow up to be in high school and far into the future.
“As far as the day-to-day stuff, it seems routine just like last year. We’re in a good groove. We do have to remember about the target on our back on a daily basis but the boys have taken it in stride. We’re not trying to dwell on last year but rather focus on this year and our new teammates.”
Hernandez has been a vital player for the Dukes this season after he scored five goals and netted four assists last season. Hernandez said the Dukes might have shifted around some players and added a few newcomers because of graduation losses, but the end goal remains the same as last year.
“We’re looking to go all the way and repeat but we are focusing on taking it game by game,” Hernandez said. “The difference is this year we have a big target on our back from being the defending champions, everyone wants to beat us. We’re prepared and the team knows we have to defend ourselves and we have to go out and win. I don’t compare this team to last year’s because they’re both different in many ways.”
Glenbard West successful during tough stretch
Glenbard West heads into a difficult stretch of its schedule with some momentum. The Hilltoppers (9-6, 2-0 West Suburban Silver) defeated Downers Grove North 6-0 and beat Glenbard South 2-0 on Sept. 24. They posted an impressive 4-1 victory over Willowbrook on Sept. 27 to win their third straight game.
Glenbard West’s Benji Zander has been on a hot streak with eight goals in the past five games.
“Senior forward Benji Zander is in great form,” Glenbard West coach Philip Wicyk said. “Things are starting to click on all fronts of the game from the defensive end to the attacking end. However, there are still things that need to be worked on – especially being strong and confident on the ball.”
The Hilltoppers conclude the regular season against Waubonsie Valley (6-10-1), Hinsdale Central (7-4-1), Oak Park-River Forest (8-3), York (10-0-3), Lyons (11-2-3) and Glenbard North (6-5-3).
“Heading into the last few games, we have to be strong on the ball, which will be a crucial factor in our success,” Wicyk said. “We’re also going to have to play smart defensively. These teams have such strong attackers that they will capitalize on any defensive mistakes we make, so we need to be as close to perfect as possible on defense.
“Another final key for these last games is continuing to evolve our attack. We have found some ways to score over the past month but we need to get even more players involved in goal-scoring opportunities. If we can be competitive in these last games, we will be a difficult out for teams in the playoffs.”
Memorable night in Hinsdale
Hinsdale Central might have suffered a 3-1 setback to Naperville Central on Sept. 23, but the program honored players across five decades. The program celebrated its 50th year, with former players from all over the country attending the soccer game and football game.
Hinsdale Central coach Michael Wiggins said it was a memorable day.
“What a special evening to see so many former players from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and over the last 22 years,” he said. “We had former players in from California, Arizona and Washington state just to name a few who were in for the game. The turnout was terrific and as I said to the group, I couldn’t be more proud of our current team in the way they play, show up everyday and put in the work. This year’s team continues to represent the 50 Years of Soccer at Hinsdale Central better than you could ever hope for. Our soccer alumni can be proud of these boys.”