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DeKalb newcomers steal the show in season opener

DeKALB – On a DeKalb soccer team with many returners from its 12-win team a year ago, it was a pair of senior newcomers who stole the show Wednesday evening at the Barb Cup.

Midfielder Akim Suraji came off the bench to dazzle with his ball skills, and forward Dylan Hottsmith contributed two goals to lead DeKalb (1-0) to a 4-1 win over Burlington Central (2-1) in its season opener.

Although Suraji and Hottsmith are in their final year, both are new to the program. Suraji is a foreign-exchange student from Ghana, and Hottsmith played football during his first three years of high school.

The Barbs had a lot of energy early, but they weren’t quite as sharp with the ball as the Rockets. Given that this was the team’s first game, it was understandable.

“I thought there was a couple jitters,” DeKalb coach Brent McIntosh said. “When you come into a match like this, there’s a high work rate. I thought we took a little bit of the first half to get our feet underneath us.”

In the 17th minute, the Barbs had their breakthrough. Senior Sean Woodford, an All-Area first-teamer a year ago, dribbled down the right sideline and found a cutting Hottsmith at the top of the 18-yard box. He took a touch and blasted a shot that hit Burlington Central goalkeeper Brett Rau’s fingertips before trickling into the corner.

The Barbs took that 1-0 lead into halftime, but it didn’t take long to increase it. One minute into the second half, Hottsmith’s speed gave him a breakaway, and he made no mistake in slotting it into the right corner.

“I thought we played well,” Hottsmith said. “We have a lot of plays that have a lot of speed and creativity, a lot of smart plays where we can make runs off each other and beat a defense with their skill.”

The Rockets found themselves with possession inside the box several times, but the DeKalb defense was so condensed that nearly every attempt was blocked.

“Usually when we leave a match, we’re going to be pretty proud of our defending,” McIntosh said. “I thought we did a great job of staying organized.”

With the match seemingly already in hand, the Barbs kept attacking. Suraji muscled his way into the box and then hit junior midfielder Trevor Freeland for a low-driven shot just inside the left post. Five minutes later, Hottsmith sent in a cross that senior defender Logan Brown smashed home to make it 4-0.

Burlington Central’s Jose Uribe salvaged a goal for the Rockets with a minute to go on a 25-yard strike.

As the Barbs celebrated their win, Hottsmith was icing a black eye from an errant elbow to the face in the first half. He might not be on the gridiron anymore, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be rough. And if he and the Barbs keeping playing like this, they might be the targets of a lot of aggression.

“I wasn’t expecting a black eye [in] the first game, but I expected it to be rough,” Hottsmith said. “It’s a varsity sport, so it’s always going to be tough. But I love my team, and we came away with a strong win.”

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