ST. CHARLES – Crosses, shots and redirects flew from nearly every angle as the St. Charles East boys soccer team closed a recent workout on a truncated portion of a practice field.
No single Saint differentiated himself, largely because every single Saint darted in pursuit of the ball.
It's a rare condition when one drill personifies a team, but egalitarian East appears to be on to something after last fall's breakthrough run to a Class 3A supersectional.
"It's great to know that you can pass to anybody on the field and they can do as good of a job, as great of a job, as anybody. Anyone can put the ball in the back of the net," senior midfielder Andrew Shone said. "We're not a team that you can just say, 'Let's put two guys on a forward,' because if you do that with our team, we have 10 other guys who are going to put the ball in the back of the net."
Shone's math suggests the goalkeeping tandem of Chris Lucatorto and Mike Novotny will look to leave the net unattended and join the attack, but that's not so. It's simply Shone's confidence showing as an upbeat mindset permeates practices despite the sight of a certain dynamic forward on the sideline.
Southern Illinois-Edwardsville recruit T.C. Hull, the 2012 Kane County Chronicle Player of the Year, is expected to miss the entire season after tearing his right ACL during a club game in the spring.
Hull's 31 goals as a junior have left the scene, but Hull is a different story.
"Every single day, he's been here. He's taking part in whatever he can. He's helping the lads out," Saints coach Paul Jennison said. "Of course, he gets a little bit of grief here and there. They like to laugh and joke with him. But he's a massive part of this team still. And, you know, the way I operate, I'm not washing my hands of him because he got injured. He's one of the reasons that we were where we were last year, and he's a massive part of this team."
Even if Hull had been participating in practices and games – not shouting his support during them – East insists he'd be regarded no differently.
With Shone and classmate Daniel DiLeonardi among those returning to the attack and incumbents including Kevin Heinrich and Jake Sterling on hand at defender, the Saints proudly tout a depth that has quickly produced chemistry.
Once their club seasons ended, team captains Heinrich, Shone and Sterling frequently texted athletes on all levels about impromptu summer workouts designed to increase touches.
About 20 players regularly attended, up from 14 last season, helping the Saints jell more quickly than in past preseasons.
"There's no cliques. There's no little groups of people," Sterling said. "We're all a team now, so I'm excited to see what happens."
East's brethren in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division might be slightly more cautious. The Saints hope to defend their league title – and, ideally, their regional and sectional plaques after that – all while taking things further than last fall.
Eventual state champion Warren edged the Saints, 2-1, in a supersectional, clamping down on defense after an early East goal.
Although Hull is gone, the development of last season's role players and the return of forward Kevin Robbins, who played academy ball as a sophomore, still makes for an eager bunch.
"The energy level is never going to drop, so that's the benefit," Shone said. "Teams are never going to get a break against us, hopefully."
That certainly wouldn't happen at the end of practice.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Grant Bracken, Geneva, Sr., F
Three-year starter sparks a potent Vikings attack that's itching to come untracked after a sub-.500 showing last season.
Luke DeSimone, Marmion, Sr., D
The soul of a defense that produced 10 shutouts last fall, DeSimone lends seasoning and tenacity to the center back position.
Billy Larsen, St. Charles North, Sr., GK
Club play and college camp tours gave Larsen confidence entering his debut last fall. Now he's hungry to become a known commodity.
Ian Larson, Batavia, Jr., M
A late-season call-up as a freshman in 2011, Larson looks to maintain the Bulldogs' tradition of stout midfielders after a season with the Fire Academy.
Conor Morton, Marmion, So., F
Cadets' returning leading scorer ought to be beaming at coach Ricky Del Toro's objective to "really press teams hard" in 2013 after last season's possession-heavy approach.
Beck Nebergall, Geneva, Sr., M
Two-time all-UEC River selection can distribute and score, and his leadership will be valuable as Vikings jell with newcomers.
Matt O'Connor, Burlington Central, Sr., M
O'Connor blends playmaking (eight goals, 13 assists in 2012) with the precise possession skills that make BC go.
Anthony Parillo, Kaneland, Sr., M
Bring on the double-teams and net traffic once more. The Knights' leading scorer and longtime leader returns with added verve for a special senior season.
Andrew Shone, St. Charles East, Sr., M
East's second-leading scorer behind the injured T.C. Hull, Shone honed his skills and leadership during offseason captain's practices.
Tyler Siebert, Kaneland, Sr., M
The veteran's smart, tactical play was one reason the Knights broke through and advanced to a 2A sectional final last season.
Jake Sterling, St. Charles East, Sr., D
Lived up to his surname while helping the Saints to a UEC River title and 3A supersectional appearance last fall.
Casey Zimmerman, Wheaton Academy, Sr., F
Warriors seek an added spark from Zimmerman after fellow St. Charles resident and reigning SCC player of the year Grant Stoneman opted to play for Chicago Magic.
TEAMS TO WATCH
The Bulldogs scuffled to a 3-13-3 finish last fall with a roster of mostly untested varsity newcomers in tow. Now, behind seniors such as midfielder Brendan Allen and goalkeeper Nick Foster, Batavia is eager to turn the tables. "With a year under their belt and an infusion of new players, we are primed to have a successful year," coach Mark Gianfrancesco said.
Already-experienced bunch is investing in a non-conference schedule loaded with bigger schools in the hopes it gets the Knights deeper than last season's sectional final run. "We've kind of upped the ante the past few years playing some stronger, bigger schools," veteran coach Scott Parillo said. "That's usually a good test for us."
Perennial Suburban Christian Conference contenders await another likely duel with Wheaton Academy before a hopeful postseason run. Coach Ricky Del Toro's club aims to be more attacking and less possession-based than in the past, but there are guys in the back still worthy of attention. Goalkeeper Matt Fletcher, who stands 6-foot-2, is a converted defender.
ST. CHARLES EAST
A key piece from last season's 3A supersectional team is gone, but the Saints go plenty deep after injured forward T.C. Hull (torn ACL), including captains Kevin Heinrich, Andrew Shone and Jake Sterling. "We're working hard and we're doing the basics," East coach Paul Jennison said, "and good things will come if you do them."
The energy level is high as several key contributors return from last season's fourth-place team in 2A. Forwards Reid Culberson and Ty Seager will look to atone for loss of Grant Stoneman to academy ball. "High expectations since we return so many starters and believe that our additions make us a deeper team than in year past," coach Jeff Brooke said.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com