In DeKalb’s past two seasons, winning the Northern Illinois Big 12 East championship in the regular season was enough.
Since the young conference was formed three years ago, the Barbs have dominated the regular season, winning back-to-back conference titles in 2010 and 2011. But that success didn’t necessarily translate to the postseason where DeKalb bowed out after one game in each of the past two years.
“In 2010 ... we put 99 percent of our focus on winning conference,” DeKalb coach Brent McIntosh said. “Quite frankly, we just didn’t have a whole lot left for the playoffs.
“Kaneland scored in the last minute of the [2011 regional semifinal] to win it. That was just a tough matchup. I’m not sure we had quite enough left in the tank to get through that.”
This year, the Barbs’ mentality has changed. After capturing the program’s third consecutive conference crown with an 8-1-1 record, DeKalb appears motivated to win the team’s first regional title since 2009.
“This year we have the drive to do it,” senior defender Andrew Stratton said. “We are ready for this regional, we’re getting mentally prepared and we’re excited for it.”
DeKalb’s (11-2-5) consistent play, starting with a Barb Cup championship in the opening week of the season, has largely been a product of the team’s defensive play. With a smaller team, McIntosh instilled a style of play that relies on a steady work rate and persistent defensive pressure.
McIntosh said he changed up practices to incorporate more defensive drills and physical conditioning, enabling his team to stay with bigger opponents for a full 80 minutes. The Barbs have also substituted more often, sometimes using five or six players off the bench in games.
“We’ve have a really solid back four of mainly seniors,” junior Skyler Weishaar said. “Our forwards actually do a lot of work defensively. It’s based on the whole 11 players working together to get the ball back.”
For this year’s playoffs, DeKalb jumps back up to Class 3A after competing in Class 2A in 2011. Despite their impressive regular season, the Barbs are seeded No. 3, behind Huntley and Jacobs. Crystal Lake South rounds out the regional, making DeKalb the only team not from the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division.
“It’s a pretty deep regional, it’s a group of four teams that are pretty tough and solid,” McIntosh said. “I’m pretty sure that all four teams are looking at this regional as winnable.”
However, in DeKalb’s favor will be home-field advantage. The Barbs will host the regional and went undefeated at home during the regular season. Their 7-0-4 home record includes a 0-0 tie with Huntley in late September and DeKalb will be looking to keep that unblemished mark through two more games.
“This field is a huge advantage to us just because of the pure size,” Stratton said. “We love this field.”