By Bob Narang

Four years ago, Parker placed third in Class 1A.

And ever since then, coach Neil Curran’s program has been aiming to top that success.

Led by standout Joey Stern and Dylan Jung, the Colonels return eight starters from a team that won a Class 1A sectional in 2017 and is looking to book a ticket to Peoria this October.

“Expectations are pretty high,” said Curran, whose team lost to eventual state finalist St. Edward in postseason play last fall. “The boys have their sights set pretty high this year.

“It’s a good team, they’re scrappy and we move the ball well when we are hitting on all cylinders. We’re still trying to sort out our defense. I wish we were little bit stronger there, but offensively we have some speed and some great technical players.”

Stern, who is headed to Macalester College, is a four-year varsity player. Like his coach, he also doesn’t hide away from admitting Parker has the potential to make a state championship run.

“We’ve had some problems in the past, just not winning the games we should win,” Stern said. “But the captains are striving to be the best team we can.

“This is one of the best teams that our school has had in years, so we know we can do great things. That’s what we are striving for. I think, player-by-player, that we are one of the most talented teams in the state.”

One of the preparation steps toward the state playoffs is competing in the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school soccer tournament in the U.S. The Colonels have made winning the tourney another point of emphasis.

“When I was a freshman on varsity, I looked up to the seniors and the varsity captains,” Stern said. “To be one of those guys that people look up to and be a role model now is really an honor. Just to lead this team in general is special.”

Curran noted the strong play of midfielder Tomas Catoggio during Opening Round action of the PepsiCo Showdown Boys. The junior did not start last season, but become a consistent contributor through the early part of this season.

“Tomas had a fantastic preseason and offseason,” Curran said. “He’s come on like gangbusters and playing really good soccer for us.”

Catoggio admits it took some adjustment playing heavy minutes on the varsity. But he’s excited to be a key cog in Parker’s quest for the program’s first state title. The Colonels have reached the state finals three times, all coming in a six-year span from 2008-2014.

“Coach has always told me if I work hard that I can accomplish everything I want,” Catoggio said. “So last year, I went out and worked out every day and now I accomplished my goal of starting.

“It’s amazing to be starting with so many good players. We all want the same thing and are working hard. We want to represent our school in the best way. I’m excited for the rest of the season.”

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