Defense leads the way to state for Tigers

FRANKFORT — Urbana senior forward Jonathan Lukusa and senior midfielder Miguel Fierro make the Tigers’ offense go. Both are tied for the team lead in goals with 21 heading into today’s Class 2A state title match against Peoria Notre Dame.

While both playmakers had solid matches Friday, the play of Urbana’s backline was critical in the win.

Junior Darian Gingold, senior Joseph Lund, junior Caine Huart and junior Kevin Lopez-Olvera stood out with their play, whether it was clearing a ball in the air with their head or making sure St. Viator’s forwards could not make a run. The Tigers have allowed three goals all postseason.

“Gingold is just unbelievable,” Tigers coach Randy Blackman said. “My two outside backs (in Huart and Lopez) have been tremendous. Lund is the glue to the offense and the defense. He just does a great job.”

Third time the charm? This is Blackman’s third time taking the Tigers to state, and Lincoln-Way North High School is also the third different facility Urbana has played at during the state tournament. Blackman’s 1991 squad lost a quarterfinal match at St. Charles High School (now St. Charles East), and his 2005 team lost in the 2A quarterfinals at North Central College in Naperville.

“This one feels a little better because we finished with a win,” Blackman said with a laugh. “All of them have been wonderful experiences. This one, I really thought we could win, and I thought in ’05 we could win. We lost that one in (2005) 2-1, so I’m glad we won this one 2-1.”

Making the trip. The Tigers drove up Friday before their semifinal match. Urbana athletic director Greg Hall said the team had a 7:30 a.m. breakfast at Milo’s in Urbana before making the two-hour trip north to Frankfort.

“Milo’s did a good thing by opening up early to get them some breakfast,” Hall said. “They had a good sendoff from there. That was a nice bonding thing for the team to do before getting up here.”

The Tigers did not bring a fan bus, but Hall said charter buses brought the squad. It was the second time the school sent the team on a charter bus after it transported players and coaches to and from Tuesday’s super-sectional victory.

“We tried to get a fan bus together,” Hall said. “What we’re finding out is that the kids that want to come to these games are the older kids, so they want to ride with their friends,” Hall said.

Tigers keeper Brian Summers said the trip north was relaxing, and the team felt loose before playing Friday.

“We talked, played games and kind of messed around,” Summers said. “I think in order for us to win, we have to play really, really loose and relaxed.”

The Tigers won’t have to worry about making a long trip before today’s title match. The team stayed Friday night at the Sleep Inn in Tinley Park, a short drive to Lincoln-Way North.

What will the Tigers do for much of their time before today’s state championship match?

“Eating and sleeping,” Fierro said with a laugh. “We’re not very nervous about it. We’ve just got to come out and play like it’s a normal game.”

Multi-tasking AD. With the state championship match set to start at 1 p.m. today, Hall and any other fan have a slight window in order to make the drive to the Urbana football team’s 4 p.m. Class 5A second-round playoff game at Morris and arrive by kickoff.

Hall planned to stay in the Chicago suburbs Friday night, watch today’s soccer match and then head to Morris. After the football game, he has plans to head back to Champaign-Urbana for another event: a wedding in Savoy.

“If football gets done at a reasonable time, I’m going to try to get back to school and possibly a wedding of one of our staff members,” Hall said. “One of our volunteer basketball coaches, Michael Murphy, is getting married (today), so I’m going to try and at least shake his hand at the reception.”

Enjoying soccer, football success. Hall said the interest and support for the Tigers’ soccer and football postseason runs has been impressive.

“Everybody is enjoying this time: students, staff and administration,” he said. “There’s a little buzz around our school. Everybody is interested in how the teams are doing and are very supportive.”

Hall said even non-sports fans are asking about the soccer team and football team’s success.

“I had a parent call me the other day and asked what we were doing as far as a pep rally to celebrate with these guys,” Hall said. “She has a daughter who is a senior at UHS, and she’s never gotten involved with anything extracurricular, but she came home one day and said, ‘Mom, guess what? The football team is in the second round of the playoffs and soccer’s going to state.’ The mom thought the fact that she even knew that was amazing.”

Hall said the school is in the process of holding a pep rally for the soccer team either Monday or Tuesday at the school.

“It’s a lot of fun,” sophomore midfielder David Anderson said. “We’re all having fun together, and we’re all really, really good friends. After the (soccer) game, we might even go out and watch their game.”

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