CHAMPAIGN — Onlookers didn’t have to go far Tuesday at the Field of Dreams to find a sweaty soccer player.
An 89-degree temperature at first whistle between Blue Ridge and Judah Christian followed by 80 minutes of athletics ensured that.
“It’s pretty rough,” Tribe senior Joe Linsner said. “The heat definitely zaps the energy out of you real quick.”
Any impact that had on Judah’s sideline didn’t affect the Tribe on the scoreboard.
Linsner banked two goals as one of four Tribe players to find the back of the net, extending Judah’s win streak to four matches via a 5-0 nonconference triumph over the Knights.
“We’re making big improvements,” Linsner said. “The big part is just connecting in the final third (of the field). We’ve been doing that really well.”
Izak Brown, Caleb Aldridge and Nathan Kereri also put the ball past Blue Ridge goalkeeper Abby Bolen, whose five saves couldn’t offset for the Knights (5-4-1) mustering three shots on goal.
The Tribe (5-2) appears to be picking up where it left off with last year’s Class 1A sectional final appearance, despite the losses of starting netminder Griffin Fazio and midfielder/team captain Micah Mills to graduation.
“They’re relaxed, like they’ve been all last year,” Judah coach Josh Birky said.
Certainly evident Tuesday, given the Tribe huddled together postmatch and belted out its own rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
“We had one game or two games where they came out a little too stoic,” Birky continued. “Just didn’t have the jive with them, and it feels like they’ve gotten that back to an extent and are kind of figuring out that they have to have that every game.”
Blue Ridge found itself in a challenging spot before even taking to the turf field.
Jacy Dean and his three goals on the year were sidelined by the flu, and Knights boss Marty Price deployed just two substitutes on the hot afternoon as a result of four other athlete injuries.
“We had a tough game (Monday) night (an 8-1 loss to Iroquois West),” Price said. “We talked about starting over here (Tuesday), and I think we had a good showing here. When we face Judah, it’s always a tough time.”
Both Brenden Flannell (15 goals) and Victor Reynolds (six goals) were stifled by the Judah defense, paced by Nathan Aardsma, Isaac Noteboom, Caleb Crowley, Misa Rodriguez and others.
“Last year, we had a tough year with only nine wins, and we’re building on that this year,” Price said. “It’s a team that’s willing to fight hard and learn.”
For all its early success, the Tribe still is perfecting its own craft as well.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been shifting midfielder Tyler Grenda into goal, as Grenda’s 6-foot-3 frame and athleticism offering an effective replacement for Fazio.
The offense, averaging nearly six goals a contest during Judah’s current run of victories, isn’t completely in sync either.
“There’s been games where we felt like, man, we could’ve got four or five more with the chances we’ve had,” Birky said. “It’s a good problem to have, but it’s trying to figure out these first 15, 16 games if we can get ourselves in a system that makes sense for everybody.”
Whatever that amounts to, the Tribe competitors will be sure to enjoy themselves while striving for that point.
“We still have ... a long ways to go, but we’re looking up,” Linsner said. “I love this group of guys. We have a lot of fun on and off the field.”