The sweet aroma of conference glory, the result of a sterling 7-2-1 N4C record, gave JJC a leg up entering this postseason.
Having wrapped up the conference title after their Oct. 8 victory over conference foe Madison, the Wolves coasted the rest of the way, knocking off Kankakee and South Suburban in wins that only added to their momentum.
That momentum was stopped dead in its tracks with a demoralizing 3-2 loss on Wednesday, Oct. 22 against underdog Rock Valley at JJC.
STRUGGLES CAME EARLY
Rock Valley got the scoring started early when Rodrigo Rubio knocked in a goal from 35 yards out on assist from Omar Rives at the 25:00 mark.
The Wolves struck back a few minutes later, when Christian Gutierrez tied things up with an unassisted goal, which came from a rebound off a restart outside the box.
Rock Valley, who attempted eight shots the whole game, would round off the first-half scoring with a Max Bautista goal, once again assisted by Omar Rives.
The second half was bittersweet to say the least, as the Wolves tied it midway through with an unassisted goal by Francisco Hernandez, but lost sophomore Luis Perez to a red card late in the half.
With the Wolves trying to hold off Rock Valley for an overtime tilt, Rock Valley stunned the crowd into silence with a Jared Laxner-assisted goal by Omar Rives with only 17 seconds remaining. The goal, a shot from inside the 6-yard box, appeared to go underneath the legs of goalkeeper Ramiro Ayala.
The loss capped JJC’s season at 10-6-1 (7-2-1 N4C), and featured breakout seasons for freshmen Nestor Rodriguez and Ayala, as well as continued excellence departing sophomores Leatile Masula, Kyle Hallerberg, and Francisco Hernandez.
MASULA DIFFICULT TO REPLACE
The impending loss of FWD Leatile Masula will be a tough one to overcome for head coach Cris Trillo, as he will have to find a way to replace a player who, with seven goals this season, tallied 22 total, making him the third-leading all-time scorer in the program’s history.
As a team, the defense allowed only 20 goals on the season, one more than last season’s program-best 19.
These stats and facts, while impressive, creates a cloud of uncertainty moving forward into 2015.
Who is the program’s next big thing? Can the defense retain its watertight integrity?
In all, the program will lose seven sophomores, with a few freshmen also likely to depart for other schools and opportunities. That means recruiting will be at an all-time high for Trillo and his staff, as they search for a roster that can insulate and improve the core of Rodriguez, Ayala, Erick Perez-Aguilar, and Emmanuel Sanchez.
PROGRAM IN GOOD HANDS
Trillo has never been one to sit on his hands and hope things turn out alright. He has consistently pumped out talent, year after year, and will be up to the task of filling out the 2015 roster with high-motor/highly athletic talent from in and around the area.
Make no mistake, men’s soccer will be back.
Joel served seven years in the U.S. Coast Guard (2005-2012) and wrote sports columns for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Texas from April 2009 to October 2014.