CHAMPAIGN — Tyler Grenda is accustomed to attempting soccer penalty kicks.
Being a midfielder has afforded him the opportunity from time to time.
The Judah Christian senior got to try his foot at one in Wednesday’s Class 1A St. Thomas More Regional semifinal versus Uni High.
Made it, too.
What Grenda isn’t so used to is stopping opposing penalty kicks.
That was the other task placed in front of him Wednesday. And Grenda passed it with flying colors.
The 6-foot-3 netminder came up with two saves in three bids as a trio of teammates followed his lead with a PK conversion, pacing the fifth-seeded Tribe in a victory over the fourth-seeded Illineks.
“I try so hard to just keep myself calm, and I just know that my team has got my back,” Grenda said. “It’s just an in-the-moment kind of thing, right? It’s just what you’re feeling, and you’ve just got to commit.”
Grenda sprawled to his left to keep both Lucas Wood and Henry D’Angelo from finding the back of the cage after the sides played to a 2-all stalemate through 100 minutes.
Steven Blanke beating Grenda wasn’t enough for Uni High (6-8-6) to overcome PK successes by Grenda, Joe Linsner, Caleb Aldridge and Bobby Rodriquez — the last of that group a first-year player in the program.
“We thought it might be OK to play for PKs because we’ve seen what (Grenda) can do in practice,” Judah coach Josh Birky said. “Some of our guys who are good PK kickers, he still saves them, and so there’s this thought in the back of the head.”
It proved the correct one for the Tribe (16-5-1), which avenged a 2-0 loss to the Illineks on Judah’s senior night last month.
“That was killer,” Grenda said. “We just got it together in the latter half of the season, and we felt like coming into this game we could compete against anyone.”
Grenda still spends some time in the field for the Tribe, but he’s been needed in net this year following the graduation of previous keeper Griffin Fazio.
Beyond allowing a pair of late first-half goals to D’Angelo, Grenda showed exactly why Birky turned to him as a replacement.
“There’s a lot of American keepers in the past (that) have been basketball players, and he’s a really good basketball player,” Birky said. “With the height and just the instinct — he’s a gamer — that all together makes such a big difference.”
After Aldridge slipped his PK try past Illineks keeper Curtis Althaus, Aldridge jogged over to Grenda to offer a little extra encouragement.
But Grenda was plenty comfortable by that stage, carrying a 2-0 lead on the PK scoreboard.
“Just getting that first save was great because I knew all my team was into it,” he said, “and we had Joe coming up to take that first kick, and I just knew that ... we have this is the bag.”
The Tribe didn’t waste much time supporting Grenda in its second playoff game, following an easy quarterfinal win over Schlarman last Saturday.
Nathan Kereri hit Izak Brown in stride for the first marker, less than four minutes into the tilt, and Kyle Stone followed one minute later with a chip shot that appeared to be aided into the twine by a gusty wind.
“We had a rough five minutes, basically, to start the game,” Illineks leader Joe Krehbiel said. “They just caught us by surprise a little bit on the wing, and they converted their chances.”
Uni High largely controlled possession from then on, collecting 12 shots on goal overall versus Judah’s four.
“I assumed that they were going to be trying to hold for penalties,” Krehbiel said. “So we tried to push forward, but it’s a long game and these guys are tired. So we gave it our best shot.”
The defeat capped an interesting first year for the Illineks with Krehbiel at the helm.
They drew with a strong 2A outfit in Champaign Central. They also either tied or played closely with the likes of Monticello, Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin — all clubs competing for 1A regional crowns later this week.
But Uni High’s regional championship streak still ends at two years.
“Our record ... doesn’t really show how far we’ve come,” Krehbiel said. “This is a good team, and I think we’re only going to get better.”
The Tribe now will suit up in its third regional final in as many campaigns, winning last year’s matchup with Unity for the club’s first piece of postseason hardware since 2004.
A familiar enemy stands in Judah’s way: regional host and top seed St. Thomas More (18-2-3), which held off the Tribe 1-0 on Aug. 26.
“It’s seven of the last eight years we’ve eliminated each other, usually at this stage,” Birky said. “So I was joking with (STM coach) James (Johnson), ‘It’s fitting we’re back here.’”
And after what the Tribe went through to outlast Uni High, there’s no backing away from another stiff challenge.
“Really excited to play that game,” Grenda said. “Can’t wait.”
Sages rally into final. Sam Haugen beat the opposing goalkeeper with less than four minutes to play in a second overtime period as third-seeded Monticello produced four unanswered goals to overcome sixth-seeded Warrensburg-Latham 4-3 in Wednesday’s Class 1A W-L Regional semifinal.
Dylan Ginalick tallied twice and Ethan Brakke also scored for the Sages (19-2-1), who trailed 3-0 at halftime but still dispatched the regional host.
Rye Johnson turned in a seven-save netminding performance for Monticello, which will seek its first regional crown since 2014 when it squares off with No. 2 Bloomington Cornerstone (14-2-4) in Saturday’s 11 a.m. title match.
Bunnies ease by Rockets. Ethan Kasper booted two goals and assisted on a third for No. 3 Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, which silenced No. 7 Unity 3-0 in Wednesday’s Class 1A Unity Regional semifinal.
The victory afforded a measure of revenge to the Bunnies (14-5-3), who dropped a 1-0 decision to the Rockets (6-14) on the same stage one year prior.
Andrew Ferguson potted the other goal for Fisher/GCMS, which will match up with No. 2 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (19-0) in Saturday’s 11 a.m. regional finale.