DeKALB – The DeKalb boys soccer team knew everything had to be perfect last year if the Barbs were going to take down Huntley to win a regional championship.
Their passing had to be immaculate, their defense needed to be unbreakable, and their finishing couldn’t be anything less than impeccable.
That didn’t happen in a 3-1 loss.
This year, with a few new game-breakers who can take on defenders and score goals virtually by themselves, DeKalb’s attitude heading into this weekend’s Class 3A DeKalb Regional is a bit different.
“Last year, I don’t think we had anyone that could do it themselves up top, and this year we have Dylan Hottsmith and Akim Suraji, which helps a lot,” defender Logan Brown said. “Because even if we aren’t playing our best together, they can always get it done. They’re both really hard-working and they can score goals.”
The No. 3 seed Barbs open their bid for a regional title Wednesday when they face No. 2 Rockford Jefferson.
The winner will, in all likelihood, play No. 1 Huntley on Saturday.
To push through the Class 3A field, the Barbs will have to adjust from their slate of Class 2A opponents in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference. The game will become faster and more physical as they face bigger schools.
But this year’s DeKalb team already has a measure of where it stands among teams in its regional. Last month, the Barbs played Huntley and lost, 3-1, though senior Sean Woodford attests that this year’s loss was much different from last year’s regional defeat.
“Even though we lost that game, we left that game knowing we could have easily won,” Woodford said. “One or two bounces our way, and we could have easily won 3-1. It was just a different feeling from last year, when we were out-possessed and it was tough to get any ball control. We felt like we improved as a team offensively and it was a manageable situation.”
Defensively, DeKalb coach Brent McIntosh said the Barbs aren’t quite as consistent this season without Daily Chronicle all-area defenders Andrew Stratton and Nick Sablich, but that they’ve made up for those losses with offensive additions. Suraji and Hottsmith, both seniors, have added speed and skill up top to lead the DeKalb attack, which also includes skilled outside midfielders Woodford and Trevor Freeland.
“This team is more dynamic in terms of offense,” McIntosh said. “We’re more well-rounded. Scoring can come from several different options. We can play a possession game, we can play a kick-and-run game when it’s needed. So I just think we’re more dynamic offensively.”
Last year, the Barbs hoped for a win over Huntley, but knew a regional title was unlikely.
In 2013, with so many offensive weapons, making a run at a Class 3A Regional championship is an expectation.
“Last season, when we went to play them, there was a lot of, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a miracle if we can win this game,’” Woodford said. “Going into this [regional], it was more like, ‘we can win this.’ “