NAPERVILLE – Geneva junior midfielder Josh Eiss got a close-up look at the tall task the Vikings faced on Thursday just before kickoff.
The 5-foot-10 Eiss had to crane his neck peering up at Naperville North goalkeeper Tom Welch, the reigning Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8 Welch recently committed to play basketball at Loyola.
Welch has impressed everyone with his goalkeeping skills, but that wasn’t the only way he tormented Geneva during the Best of the West Tournament game. He switched to forward in the second half and scored his first varsity goal to finish the scoring in the Huskies’ 5-1 win.
“I was standing next to him before I came in and I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, how tall is this kid?’” Eiss said. “Sure enough, he put one in, which I actually was very impressed by considering he’s a starting goalie. Props to him, that was a good goal.”
Eiss also deserves props. The varsity rookie also bagged his first varsity goal, cutting the deficit to 3-1 with 13:55 remaining in the second half when he scored on a rebound after Naperville North backup goalkeeper Jason Barba saved his penalty kick.
Barba, who would start on most teams, lunged to his left to stop Eiss, but the ball trickled along the goal line and Eiss raced in and scored.
“Yeah, it was [a great save],” Eiss said. “He read me like a book on that one.
“I looked to the left side, thought he’d see my eyes and go, Oh, man, that kid’s going to go to the left.’ Then I went to the right and he knew it. Good save but I was ready for it and I followed it up.”
It was Geneva’s lone highlight against the two-time defending Class 3A state champions,who are off to a 4-0 start. The young Vikings (0-5) have scored only two goals while playing a tough schedule that also included Wheaton Academy, which finished third in Class 2A last year.
“This is a tough year for us,” Eiss said. “We’re a really new team with a bunch of different kinds of grade levels all combining into one team and we’re all new to each other.
“We’ve never really played together, so I think that’s why we’re struggling so much, considering we’re playing teams like Naperville North, who has won state two years in a row, and Wheaton Academy, another studly team. But I think the next couple of years we’ll really be able to be good.”
Despite the loss, Eiss was upbeat. Geneva’s defense of Stuart Turnbull, Jack Cannon, James Miller and Daniel Belzer played hard but was worn down by the relentless pressure of the Huskies, who scored four goals in the second half, including three consecutive shots. Zach Smith scored two brilliant goals for Naperville North, the second on a 30-yard rocket just 32 seconds after Eiss scored.
“They just keep attacking and breaking you down, making you tired running after the ball,” Eiss said. “Then they poke [goal] in and get you more tired. It just shows the power of those teams.
“When you’re playing against a team like that it’s really hard. We’ve got to keep our head up, play hard and effort is what really matters in games like this.”
Geneva coach Jason Bhatta likes his team’s effort.
“(It is] growing pains,” Bhatta said. “North is big and strong, so matching up that way with a lot of inexperienced guys who haven’t played varsity, it’s tough because the one thing they’re not used to is the physicality of the game at this level.
“We’re learning lessons and moving on.”