GRAYSLAKE – Marian Central boys soccer coach Jim Colvin looked at two things while preparing for Wednesday’s Class 2A Grayslake North Sectional semifinal match against Vernon Hills.
The Hurricanes played only one game on turf this season, a loss to Huntley in the first match of the season. So during the Hurricanes’ practice Tuesday, Colvin had the team play on a hard surface – the parking lot at Marian.
He wanted to have his team prepared for the speed of the game and be ready for sharp bounces that happen when playing on turf.
The first-year coach also wanted to slow the high-powered Cougars’ offense that had scored 13 goals while allowing two in their two playoff wins leading up to Wednesday’s match, which Vernon Hills won, 1-0.
“We had a game plan of sitting in and trying to hold a tight area where we could defend them, and our game plan was pretty good,” Colvin said. “But It boils down to a defensive mixup and not being able to clear the zone, but that’s soccer.”
Cougars forward Ilya Kravtsev scored on an assist from Caleb Shaw just eight minutes into the match. The Cougars advance to the sectional final Saturday against Antioch.
The Hurricanes settled down defensively and didn’t allow anything easy the rest of the way behind a solid defensive performance from junior Beau Meintz and sophomore goalkeeper Jake Higgins, who made 12 saves.
Meintz spearheaded a defense that controlled the fast Vernon Hills attackers and shut down two separate 1-on-1 opportunities in the second half.
“Beau has been the rock of the defense all season,” Colvin said. “He’s been a fantastic player for us and it continued [Wednesday.]”
While the Hurricanes stuck to their strong game plan, neither Colvin nor the players on either team could prepare for the weather. What started as a light drizzle during the opening half quickly turned into a downpour in the second half and forced the Hurricanes’ defenders and Higgins to play fundamentally sound while trying to keep the match close.
Despite the rain-slicked ball and wet hands, Higgins made two point-blank saves in the second half and another that he had to completely stretch out for to keep out of the net on a free kick. Higgins, a goalkeeper for the travel team Sockers FC, is used to playing on turf and in poor conditions and learned a trick over the years to be better equipped for such situations.
“Nine months a year I’m on turf, and I’ve played in the rain,” he said. “[If the gloves are wet] it just makes it worse, so I kept my hands closed the whole game to keep the water off until I needed them.
“You also have to get your body behind everything and try to absorb shots. You can’t play with just your hands.”
His efforts kept the match close, but the Hurricanes couldn’t generate enough offense and had just five shots on goal. Part of the offensive woes stemmed from injuries during the match to top goal scorer Liam Gries, who suffered an ankle injury, and teammate Hunter Labas, who suffered a separated shoulder in the second half.
The Hurricanes made a push with two minutes to play as sophomore forward Fernando Tapia got close to the net twice but was turned away.
“[Vernon Hills] definitely had speed up top and their defense was shutting down our crosses,” Tapia said. “Some of us were aware of the pressure in a big game, too.”