CHAMPAIGN — The Urbana Uni High boys’ soccer program is no stranger to knocking — actually, pounding might be the more accurate term — on the state tournament door.
In 2006 and 2007, when eight teams made it to state in a two-class system, the Illineks each time fell one win short of joining the party.
In 2011, with the IHSA several years into a three-class set-up with a Final Four format for state, Uni again missed advancing by one victory.
On Tuesday night, the Illineks finally kicked in the door — along with two goals — to achieve a long-awaited breakthrough. Coach Phil Anders’ guys are headed to state after taking down Macomb 2-0 in a Class 1A super-sectional at the UI Turf Fields.
It was an historic breakthrough, too, Uni becoming the first soccer team — boys or girls — from Champaign-Urbana to qualify for a Final Four.
“In many ways, the success of this season is the success of many seasons,” Anders said. “We’ve been able to develop a really good program that kids want to be a part of. The players have made this a quality program, and in doing that, that encouraged the better players to play better and the average players to excel.”
Now, the Illineks (21-2-1) get to put their act on display on Class 1A soccer’s biggest stage — at the Corn Crib in Normal — in a state semifinal match at 7 p.m. Friday. Uni will face Keith Country Day School of Rockford, which advanced Tuesday with a 1-0 triumph against Chicago F.W. Parker in the Hoffman Estates Super-sectional.
“It’s quite something,” Anders said. “What’s been key about this is simply the level-headed, clear thinking and the focus these guys have put into this as well as the technical and physical abilities. It’s a complete package.”
The Illineks needed all that to fend off Macomb, which finished with an 11-9 advantage in shots on goal.
“They gave us trouble in the middle of the field, where we generally have been able to manage besting other teams,” Anders said.
But thanks to the attacking duo of Patrick Wong and Randall Hornbaker as well as a defense that refused to crack, Uni was superior in this super-sectional.
Wong scored both of the Illineks’ goals, each on an assist by Hornbaker, to put Macomb in a 2-0 first-half hole from which it never recovered.
On the opening score, Wong, a Macomb defender and the Bombers’ goalkeeper all converged on the ball at about the same time. It ended up caroming off the two Macomb players to Wong, who sent it into an open net in the 29th minute.
“We created the opportunity, but it was a hard-fought goal,” Anders said. “It was something where Patrick lunged for it at the net. It was not pretty, but it was a goal.”
Goal No. 2 in the 37th minute was far more aesthetically pleasing, at least to the Illineks.
“It was thing of beauty,” Anders said. “Randall crossed the ball and Patrick headed the ball in. It was a perfect cross into the middle and a perfect finish.”
Uni’s defense was perfect, too, at least when it came to keeping the ball out of the net. Goalkeeper Tristan Gurtler recorded six saves, and Illinek defenders Lucas Newman-Johnson, Chris Sligar, Fred Stavins and Taharka Baraka put up a stout wall in front of him.
“The defense and our goalkeeper Tristan had a tremendous game,” Anders said. “That’s probably the most saves he’s had in a number of games. He was tested. The defensive four were tested many times.”