BURLINGTON — The Rochelle Hub varsity soccer team faced a familiar foe in the Kaneland Knights during the IHSA 2A Burlington Central Regional Semifinals on Wednesday. The two teams battled in Interstate 8 Conference play earlier this season, with the Knights scoring eight unanswered goals and dominating the Hubs on their home field to bring home a 10-2 victory.
Wednesday’s regional rematch was a much different story, with the Hubs fighting valiantly on the defensive end to contain Kaneland’s offensive attack. Despite missing two starters in sophomore midfielder Eli Luxton and junior forward Jared Montano, Rochelle gave Kaneland all it could handle, but the fifth-seeded Hubs fell just short, losing to the fourth-seeded Knights 2-1 and finishing the season with a 9-12 overall record. Kaneland will advance to the final round.
“I thought our effort tonight was a testament to our commitment and our hard work during practice this week,” head coach Brad Male said. “We knew coming in that this would be a tough match for us, but our kids put the time in during practice and they moved the ball really well tonight. I thought we were looking for each other and that showed throughout the match.”
Rallying behind senior captain Bryce Whitehead as well as junior Christian Harding and sophomore Nathan Sergeant, who weren’t starting defenders when the season began, Rochelle held Kaneland scoreless for over 10 minutes to open the match. The Knights ultimately struck first, however, scoring from the top of the Hub penalty box during the 13th minute to take the 1-0 lead. Junior Jarett Milan, who finished with a season-high 19 saves, held steady in net and hauled in several shots from the Knights to keep the score 1-0 at halftime.
“We played together really well on the back line and we were able to keeps our heads in the match,” Male said. “We played tough defensively and I thought our keeper really stepped up.”
Kaneland added to its lead during the 59th minute, scoring on a breakaway opportunity to surge ahead 2-0. While the Hub defense battled to keep the Knights at bay, Rochelle’s offense was limited to only eight shots and three shots on goal. The Hubs did find some late momentum, however, scoring in the 77th minute when sophomore Diego Salazar rolled a pass toward the middle of the Kaneland penalty box that freshman Alberto Casillas cashed in.
“I’m very pleased with how we played tonight,” Male said. “We just came up a little short. We had a lot of young kids who earned playing time tonight and I look forward to watching them continue to improve. I’m hoping that all of them will come out for the team next season.”