Monticello soccer champs
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WARRENSBURG — “Burying our heads in the sand.”

That’s how Monticello boys’ soccer coach Dan Burkybile described his team’s early first-half performance in Wednesday’s Class 1A Warrensburg-Latham Regional semifinal against the host school.

After falling behind the Cardinals 3-0, the Sages did eventually regain their heads and pull out a 4-3 victory in overtime.

Saturday’s regional final brought about a similar start — albeit not as steep a deficit.

Second-seeded Bloomington Cornerstone struck first and grabbed a 1-0 lead in the opening period versus third-seeded Monticello.

But that was old hat for the Sages.

“They weren’t shaken at all,” Burkybile said. “The game before, I think that did kind of help us learn a little bit and help us gain some confidence in ourselves.”

Monticello put that on display the rest of the way Saturday, banking three unanswered goals to post a 3-1 win over the Cyclones and advance to a sectional for the first time since 2014.

“It is kind of a validation of the year,” Burkybile said. “It’s kind of a stamp on the year. Yeah, we’ve definitely improved from the year prior.”

An easy indicator lies in last year’s regional championship match — in which Cornerstone dispatched Monticello.

In 2019, it was time for the Sages (19-2-1) to devastate the Cyclones (14-3-4).

Andrew Ellison tied the match at 1 before halftime when a Cornerstone handball in the box led to a penalty kick.

From there, Monticello held all of the offensive success.

Jayden Wiegel, whom Burkybile said has been “off and on injured” throughout the year, pounced on a loose ball for what turned out to be the winning marker.

And the Sages weren’t content to sit on a one-goal edge.

A Dylan Ginalick throw-in led to Tristan Fox hitting Sam Haugen for an insurance header to make it 3-1.

“To get that extra goal was kind of big,” Burkybile said.

So too is Monticello’s sixth regional crown in program history — especially considering where the club found itself not long ago.

“This senior group has come from ... when they were freshmen, I think we were 3-18 that year,” Burkybile said. “So they’ve had their share of struggles. Then to get to this point, they’re definitely proud of that, and they should be.”

Integral to the Sages’ triumph Saturday was buckling down on a Cyclone offense that averaged north of four goals per tilt entering the morning.

That led Burkybile to do something unprecedented in his coaching tenure.

“It was kind of the same two players that have a lot of goals for them. It’s Webby (Phiri) and Brian (Matipa),” Burkybile said. “I’ve never double man-marked before, but that’s what we did (Saturday) to shut those two down.”

Will Monticello look to a similar approach in Tuesday’s 4 p.m. 1A Normal U-High Sectional semifinal against rival St. Thomas More (19-2-3), which boasts potent scorers in JP Hoffman and Joe Sellett?

Burkybile didn’t say Saturday, but did note changes will be required based on a 4-2 loss to the Sabers on Sept. 26.

“We kind of felt like that game could’ve gone either way,” Burkybile said. “They were very physical. We’re physical, too, so we’ve got to adjust a little bit.”

Blue Devils persevere. Ryan Reifsteck made one item clear to his Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin boys’ soccer athletes prior to Saturday’s Class 1A Unity Regional title bout with Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.

A higher level of intensity would be necessary than was shown in last month’s Blue Devils victory over the Bunnies.

The reason, beyond competing for IHSA hardware?

The numbers next to the BHRA name.

“It’s always scary when you go into a tournament when you haven’t been beaten,” Reifsteck said, “because the expectations are there.”

The second-seeded Blue Devils met them by trumping third-seeded Fisher/GCMS 3-1 for just the second regional plaque in team history, and first since 2016.

“They showed up (Saturday) and played well,” Reifsteck said. “They keep validating the hard work they’ve put in.”Drew Reifsteck continued his torrid goal-scoring pace for BHRA (20-0) with his second hat trick of the regional, upping his season total to 46. Only Andrew Ferguson could respond for the Bunnies (14-6-3).

The Blue Devils move on to Wednesday’s 4 p.m. 1A Normal U-High Regional semifinal against the top-seeded host Pioneers (17-5).

Cornjerkers stifled. Second-seeded Hoopeston Area (21-5-1) trailed 2-0 at halftime and couldn’t form a rally as third-seeded Herscher posted a 6-0 win in the Class 1A Hoopeston Area Regional final.

Raiders’ season ends. Fifth-seeded Iroquois West dropped a 4-0 decision to top-seeded Manteno on Saturday in the Class 1A IW Regional final. The Raiders finished 18-6-1.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).