LT soccer hopes to mirror last season

Luetkehans, Valenta return for repeat performance

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By JOE TROST

You can't blame Lyons boys soccer coach Alex Hernandez for reminiscing a little every so often about the 2005 season.

"Last year was exciting," Hernandez said. "We went 22-2-3, made it to the semifinals of the Pepsi Showdown and advanced to the Class AA state finals.

"We had a great group of kids that worked hard. It's a year I'll never forget."

But that was last year, and that's something Hernandez said he has reminded himself during the first weeks of practice this year.

"We don't have the superstars this year that we had last year," Hernandez said. "The key to our success will be playing consistent soccer. It's not going to be easy replacing the players that graduated."

But the Lions do have at least one superstar returning in senior forward Kyle Luetkehans, who finished with eight goals and 21 assists last season.

"We're going to be a totally different team this year," Hernandez said. "At this point, I'm not really sure where our talent level is going to be.

John Valenta (15 shutouts, 13 goals allow) is the only other starter that returns. Midfielders Craig Krzyskowski and Ben Gabric and forwards Mike Schreiber and Andy Kelly are four players that will need to rise to the occasion this fall.

"I know Kyle is going to be the leader," Hernandez said. "We need him to be-especially early in the year in a tournament like the Pepsi Showdown."

Lyons, which is the official IHSA host for the 2006 Pepsi Showdown, earned the No. 12 seed in the 32-team, single-elimination showcase. The Lions will host Streamwood at 5 p.m. on Sept. 5.

"This tournament will be a spring board for us one way or another," said Hernandez, whose team lost to eventual champion Wheaton Warrenville South in the semifinals and finished third a year ago. "It will either take us to another level or send us in a tailspin."

On back-to-back Saturdays-Sept. 9th and 16th-all 32 teams will play at the Lyons Soccer Complex, which allows college coaches and fans to see a number of the top teams and players at one site. The title game will be played on Sept. 23 as part of a doubleheader with the Chicago Fire at the new $100 million Toyota Park in Bridgeport.

"It was exciting looking around on the two Saturdays last year and seeing all the teams playing," Hernandez said. "To have all 32 teams at one site on the same day is what separates this tournament from the rest.

"I'm even more excited about this year's tournament. Things last year went off without a hitch, and that was because our administration did a great job making sure everything was set to host a prestigious tournament like this."

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