GENEVA – Minus senior Matt Butz for the final stages of Saturday's match – and now the rest of its season – the Geneva boys soccer team still learned a lesson from its fallen forward.
It's a truth that might have emerged from a cheerleader, if only one had been on hand for a soggy Class 3A Naperville Central Regional quarterfinal at Burgess Field: Be aggressive. Being timid does no good.
Butz collided with Batavia goalkeeper NIck Foster as he rose for a ball midway through the second half. Butz went up with the Vikings ahead by two goals. He came down with a broken right shinbone. Shaken, Geneva conceded a goal moments after Butz was carted to an ambulance by stretcher, but ultimately held on for a 2-1 victory.
The top-seeded and host Redhawks await in a regional semifinal at 5 p.m. Wednesday, when the underdog Vikings will vow to channel their teammate's hustle and approach, not sulk over his absence.
"We've just got to keep playing strong," junior midfielder Beck Nebergall said. "Even though we lost Matt, we've definitely got players who can fill his spot. All the pressure's on [Naperville Central], so if we play good, we can definitely beat them."
Geneva (7-7-2) was especially effective in the box against the Bulldogs (3-14-3), who controlled much of the run of play after the Vikings burst to an early lead on the wet turf.
Disposable raincoats sold alongside the standard fare at the Geneva concession stand, and seemed a superfluous choice as most fans huddled beneath their own umbrellas.
Players didn't enjoy the luxury of either option, though Geneva found it far easier to soak things up. Building a 2-0 lead after the game's opening 5:21, the Vikings struck just 39 seconds in when senior defender Alex Zefron finished a deflected free kick resulting from a Batavia handball.
Minutes later, Butz flagged down David Goodyear's long pass and scored from the left side. Suddenly, the weeklong emphasis on showing better in Saturday games – Geneva now stands 1-2-1 in them – was paying dividends.
"I feel like we came out more excited and pumped to win this, and they kind of were on their heels," Nebergall said, "so I think we started really strong. And that really helped us."
A similar boost lifted Geneva past Batavia, 4-1, in the teams' Upstate Eight Conference River Division meeting here in September.
On Saturday, Batavia's David Curnock sent a blast off the left post between Geneva tallies, leaving Bulldogs coach Mark Gianfrancesco to wonder just what it is about the woodwork.
"That's the season," Gianfrancesco said. "I think we've hit more [posts] than I've ever seen in my life in any teams I've had. But they just stuck with it, though. That's the thing with this team. They kept playing. I thought, by and large, we outplayed them ... after they scored the first two goals. But it's a funny game, what are you going to do?"
Vikings goalkeeper Joe Mozden faced his share of challenges before the Bulldogs struck at last on a Peter Munson goal with 19:36 to play, moments after a 20-minute injury delay for Butz.
Batavia shuffled around at goalkeeper for much of the match, but still held strong. In the first half, Nick Foster had been carded for a handball just outside the 20-yard box, and Mike Rueffer entered the game until Foster could return.
Rueffer, who can double as high-motor field player, returned to the net when Foster was unable to move well laterally after the Butz collision. Needing a goal, Gianfrancesco swapped Rueffer with midfielder Kyle Rakos late in the match.
The Bulldogs routinely played 16- or 17-deep this season and will need its underclassmen to keep developing after the graduation of such seniors as Munson, Rakos and Rueffer.
"All those guys are going to have to step up and show up next year," Gianfrancesco said. "As we said even today, you know, you have a lot of varsity experience now. It's time to show up."
Geneva realizes it must regroup against defending 3A runner-up Naperville Central (17-1), whose senior forward, Pat Flynn, figures to be marked by an eager Zefron.
"They've got a lot of weapons, they're well-organized, and you can't underestimate the momentum that they're on, as well," Vikings coach Ryan Estabrook said.
All the more reason for the Vikings to take chances. Considering their opportunity, they see no other way.