Men’s soccer brings home regional title

By Chris Cook

The Illinois club soccer team got four solid victories and won the regional championship in Indiana this weekend. Senior forward Joe Rokop described the team’s play as “the best we’ve played this season.”

“It was an excellent tournament,” he said. “It was the best weekend I’ve had all year.”

Posting their second straight undefeated season and automatically qualifying for Nationals in Alabama in mid-November, Illinois was the team to beat in the tournament.

Sophomore midfielder Jamal Gorham said he could tell from the start it was a tournament game in Saturday’s opener against Northwestern.

“They came out with a lot of fire,” he said. “It seemed like they really wanted to beat us.”

In addition, most of the teams in the tournament had a lot more to play for than Illinois, as the only way the other teams could qualify for nationals would be to win the regional tournament.

“The other teams were playing for the rest of their season,” player/coach Dan Malloy said. “There was more physical play and the speed was a lot faster.”

Illinois, however, pulled away from Northwestern for a 3-1 victory on goals from Malloy, senior midfielder Kyle Ledbetter and Rokop.

In the following game Illinois blew out Ohio State 5-0 for an easy victory. Ledbetter tallied two goals again, while senior midfielder Garrett Slemmons, junior forward Dave Brown and senior midfielder Todd Mayer added one apiece.

The two victories set up a semi-final matchup with Michigan. The regular season game between these two teams ended in a 1-1 draw – Illinois’s only non-victory.

This time around, however, it was never close. Illinois took control early and had a 2-0 lead less than 20 minutes into the game.

Brown scored a goal and connected with Gorham for another.

The team got a scare when senior defender Kenny Guevara left with an injury. Junior Mark Newman, however, was solid in Guevara’s absence and only minutes later Illinois’ teamwork resulted in another goal.

Brown and senior midfielder Rickie Partyka combined beautifully on the side before Brown crossed it into the box where Ledbetter connected for his fourth goal of the tournament.

“Our teamwork was great,” Malloy said. “We were able to play and move the ball around. Kyle’s goal was just a bang-bang play.”

Rokop credited the whole team for the success.

“Our bench was phenomenal,” he said. “Usually in soccer the level of play drops when the first team comes out. That was not the case.”

Michigan could not muster any comebacks and 3-0 stood as the final score. The players were thrilled with the win.

“Michigan and Ohio State were the best games we’ve played all season,” Gorham said. “It’s good to know we’re peaking at the right time.”

“Michigan is a great rival,” Malloy said. “Spanking them the way we did was a huge confidence booster for the team.”

In the final game against Dayton, opposing supporters were chanting, “shock the world!” Illinois, however, was unfazed. Five minutes into the game Rokop freed up Brown on the side with a great through ball. The cross found its way to Slemmons who gave Illinois the 1-0 lead.

Dayton equalized, but Illinois seemed poised and only minutes later Brown got the go-ahead goal. Brown would add another to secure the 3-1 victory.

“It’s not just that we won, but the way we won it,” Rokop said. “we came out of our shell and played our shoes off.”

The team now turns its attention towards nationals in two weeks.

“This weekend means a lot to us, but it’s really just a precursor,” Gorham said, “We want to win in Alabama in two weeks.”