Franz Calixte describes the Class of 2025 as “arguably one of the best teams we’ve had at the sophomore level.”
But they’ll have to wait their turn on the ETHS varsity – just like every other year since Calixte took over the boys soccer program.
Calixte doesn’t plan to waver from a philosophy that rewards seniors who have stuck with the program all four years. He’ll continue to give them first crack at starting jobs again this season, which begins Tuesday with a home contest at 7 p.m. against Barrington.
Calixte’s loyalty to seniors who often don’t get on the varsity field very much as juniors is just part of a championship culture that annually produces double-figure victories and top Illinois High School Association sectional tournament seeds. Again this fall, the veteran coach must replace almost his entire starting lineup from a team that posted a 15-3-4 record and lost to Oak Park-River Forest in the sectional championship game.
In preseason tryouts, Calixte had five members of the sophomore class on the field with the varsity. But even though they all excelled, the coach only kept one of them – forward Johnny Hunwick.
Hunwick will likely start the season opener, and Calixte felt that not being able to guarantee playing time for the other sophomores would be detrimental to their progress as players. So they’ll play at the lower levels, at least for now.
“I was extremely tempted to leave them all up, that’s how good they are,” he said. “But I’d rather they get playing time, and I think we’re going to be pretty strong even without them.
“One of our former players, Bazzy Schultz, had planned to play in college but he broke his leg last November. So he asked if he could help out with our tryouts and now he’s one of our assistants. And he told me that at this stage, these guys are better than our team last year – in every facet of the game.
“It was nice to hear that. I don’t think we’re going to have any dropoff at all.”
New faces in so many new places don’t concern Calixte, not as long as the talent level remains high in the program. Hunwick and junior Bryan Maldonado both scored over 20 goals on the lower levels last fall.
Maldonado was promoted to the varsity at the end of the season and scored a goal in his first varsity game. “We’re looking for him to provide some scoring punch for us this year,” the coach said. “And this is perfect timing for Hunwick to come up. Last year we had a lot of forwards, but now we don’t have any returnees at that position. He just finds a way to score. He’s shifty, he’s creative and he’s dangerous with the ball. He just has a nose for scoring opportunities and if he’s not scoring himself, he’s going to get a lot of assists.”
The three seniors returning from last year are Sam Darer, a starting midfielder; Patrick Osilaja, who started at times; and defender Spencer James.
Darer should line up next to a pair of newcomers, junior Munyaneza (“Joseph,” to his teammates) Ndahiriwe and Hugo Blackwell in the midfield. Munyaneza caught the eyes of the coaching staff during preseason play, and Blackwell is returning to the program after playing club ball as a junior.
“We have multiple options this year on offense, so we’re definitely looking for more goals and assists from Sam,” said Calixte. “Joseph had a very strong preseason, and Blackwell has always been one of the best players in his class. He went the Academy route last year and we’re thrilled to have him back.”
Two other newcomers are senior Clareens Calonges, a Haitian native who moved here at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is getting his first real opportunity to play, and Nikita Studinski, a Ukrainian refugee whose father is fighting in the war there.
On defense, the Wildkits will build around the versatile Osilaja, who will likely team up in back with the Alexander brothers, junior Chris and senior Tyler.
”Patrick came back in really great shape,” said Calixte, “and even though we think that we work them all, he’s always asking to do more [drills]. He brings a lot of energy and he’s always pushing his teammates. He leads by example.
“I don’t know if the Alexanders have ever played together before, but they have the size, strength and tenacity we need back there. We always look at building a strong defense first. That’s our foundation.”
The starting goalkeeper position is still up for grabs between two juniors, Alex Mahoney and Cade Likhite. Calixte will likely rotate the two in the starting lineup until someone emerges to earn that starting position on a regular basis.
Other players to watch are Diego Velasquez, a junior forward who is a threat to score every time he steps on the field; senior defender Payton Wisely; senior defender Trey Vander Velde; junior midfielder Ben Roman; senior midfielder Nate Melnikov; junior defender Benji Koziura; senior midfielder Jack Kaplan; senior forward Carlington Henry; senior defender Armano Gomez; and senior midfielder Matthew Davies.