Tigers showing their stripes

Tigers showing their stripes

URBANA — The season-ending loss a year ago was crushing, but the dreams for several members of an Urbana boys' soccer team that had designs on a run to state a year ago weren't diminished with a sectional semifinal defeat.

Sure, several key players would be gone before the start of the 2017-18 season, including two All-Area first-team members. But the Tigers knew they had the talent to put themselves in a similar position.

"We knew we were only losing a couple of guys," senior defender Sam Arend said. "Yeah, they're pretty good at what they do, but if we can move the ball and just get into shape, we're going to be able to do pretty well."

Through 12 games this season, Urbana is undefeated in regulation, with two losses coming in penalty kicks at the Morton Invite. Tuesday night's 3-0 win over Danville, though, was the first time they've maximized their high-end skill in the midfield, possessing the ball with short passes rather than playing long balls.

"I thought we knocked it around a little bit better," Urbana coach Randy Blackman said. "We have too much skill on this team not to be able to do that. From my standpoint, we've got to focus on the basics in being able to pass the ball, and (Tuesday) I thought we started out right away doing that.

"You have a lot of players out there that know how to pass and move the ball. ... We're starting to get back to passing the ball."

The Tigers (9-2-1, 3-0-1 Big 12) broke open the scoring in the sixth minute, when Pablo Diaz slammed a free kick into the lower corner. With just under 13 minutes left in the first half, Bennett Anderson recovered the ball in the offensive third and played a cross to Lateef Abdul Rahman-Bridgewater, who buried the second goal of the game.

Danville (6-5, 3-2) had chances, including a shot by defending Player of the Year Caleb Griffin early in the second half that was cleared off the line by Michael Larenas-Leach, but Urbana was able to control the flow of play for most of the night. With 28 minutes left, Magnus Parente's cross found Diaz, who scored on an open goal.

Danville, which had only five players on its bench, couldn't hang with the Tigers in the end.

"Most of our guys are playing 80 minutes and they're playing as hard as they possibly can for 80 minutes," Danville coach Chris Griffin said. "We're just not quite there yet. We're still working and we're still not quite at the top level just yet."

Blackman also thinks his team has plenty of room for improvement. Tuesday, though, was a start.

"I don't think we've reached anywhere near what we're capable of doing," Blackman said. "The kids are starting to pick it up a little bit, so it's good to see some improvement."