Memory Lane: Centennial girls' soccer

Memory Lane: Centennial girls' soccer

Memory Lane: Centennial girls' soccer

EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN PREPS HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE

This week: Postseason for girls' soccer is under way, and there are several teams that might go a long way. Do you remember when the Chargers were perennial contenders for a state crown?

Date: April 4, 2002

Headline: Building a dynasty

CHAMPAIGN — It stands to reason that Centennial's girls' soccer team, Champaign's resident dynasty, would be more than eager to skip the entire regular season and go straight into the postseason.

After all, regular season matches can involve little drama when Centennial is on the pitch. Lopsided scores are common.

You might think that. Even coach Mark Sikora was working along those lines.

"At first, they were really wanting to (start out) where we were when we ended, but I think now they understand there's still a lot of things we need to do," Sikora said.

Megan Bushue, one of the team's top scorers, said the postseason — which has included back-to-back state tournament trips — is great fun to look back on, but the regular season is more pure enjoyment.

(The postseason) is more stressful," Bushue said.

True, but stress hasn't slowed the Chargers. Centennial returns the core group from two seasons' worth of Big 12 titles and super-sectional championships, and the expectations of another state visit remain. Both times the Chargers were eliminated in the round of eight. So what will it take to move to the next step?

If it involves an understanding that the status quo isn't good enough, the Chargers are set.

"This group has been really good about figuring out where we're deficient and hopefully fixing that in practice and games," Sikora said.

Complacency would seem an easy target for such a veteran group. It hasn't set in, perhaps through the team's maturity, the coaching staff's tactics and the disappointments of seasons past.

"If you're looking for any sort of positive out of last season's ending (a 1-0 loss to Sandburg), it really got them motivated the next day to get back at it and work on what they were weak in," Sikora said. "It was their second year of being there, and they were pretty disappointed. I've been very impressed with what they've been doing."

Many were involved in club ball. Bushue (37 goals, 30 assists in 2001) and News-Gazette Player of the Year Brittany Ward (27 goals, 30 assists) were selected to play in the Olympic Development Program, though they participated on separate age-group teams.

Mackey Johnson, Karisa Brenner and Bailey Brenner are among those who have made impressive strides since last season.

Sikora did his part by reworking the schedule, adding tournaments in East Moline and Rockford, which will give the Chargers more frequent looks at teams and styles they could see during the playoffs.

That's even more important this spring because the IHSA is using a two-class postseason for the first time. Like the boys' tournament, Centennial will compete in Class AA. Champaign Central, Urbana and Rantoul are in Class A. The Chargers will compete in a sectional hosted by Quincy, and the super-sectional has been axed.

"One of the reasons I added some things to the schedule was because we need to play very tough teams," Sikora said. "We might take a loss here and there, and that's OK as long as we get better. The whole thing about the schedule is we don't want complacency to set in because if it does, we're going to get played off the park."

Conventional wisdom says the Chargers will see tougher foes earlier in the playoffs. And should they reach the sectional semifinals, a long bus ride or two to Quincy will be in order. Recent sectionals were held in Decatur.

But those factors should be offset by a team that now can claim a hardening by experience. Most important were a one-sided Elite Eight loss in 2000 and a heartbreaking defeat in 2001.

"I remember when I was a freshman, walking into the stadium and seeing all the people, and I was like, `Wow,' " Bushue said. "And now that's what you look forward to. This is how it's supposed to be."

Said Sikora: "Hopefully, getting into these bigger tournaments will get us used to that, so it won't be a big shock. I think they'll take the attitude that whoever comes down the road, it doesn't matter."

Tony Bleill

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