By Bob Narang

Justin Kornas entered his junior season at Huntley with excitement.

But the midfielder, who started playing the game at the age of 5, wasn’t sure what to expect in his first season on the varsity in 2018.

He quickly discovered that varsity soccer is a different level.

“It’s a much quicker game, and you need to be in really good shape – especially for my position,” Kornas said. “I learned working off the ball is just as important as working with the ball.

“And I really realized one of the key aspects of the game is playing physical. Many (players) took advantage of my (5-foot-8) size. Over the course of the season, I learned to handle it and be more physical.”

Huntley coach Matt Lewandowski watched Kornas endure some growing pains last season, mainly due to his lack of varsity experience.

“The big thing for Justin was the speed and pace of the game,” said Lewandowski, who takes over head coaching duties after serving as Kris Grabner’s assistant in recent years. “The varsity level is a lot more physical than the junior varsity. The first couple of games he got knocked down quite a bit, but he figured it out. Justin is quick and smart.”

Kornas is one of the senior leaders on a team looking for a bounce-back season after enduring a losing campaign in 2018. The Red Raiders are hoping for a strong start to build some momentum that will translate into a strong showing in the PepsiCo Showdown Series, which kicks off in mid September and features some of the best programs and top players from the Midwest.

“I’ve been improving every year and all the work is paying off,” Kornas said. “I want to play in college.

“I have been in contact with a few college coaches and plan on meeting them when I make campus visits this fall. I want to enjoy my senior year as much as possible, maintain good grades and find the perfect college for me. I’m very excited to see what the future holds.”

Lewandowski, a 2007 Huntley graduate, hopes the future holds more goals for the Red Raiders. He’s leaning on Kornas, sophomore Austin Killen and senior Dylan Mielke to end Huntley’s two-year losing skid.

“We showed a lot of character to fight through a losing season,” Lewandowski said. “Things just didn’t fall our way, and we couldn’t find a goal.

“We stayed together as a team with almost no negativity, which is kind of strange for a team that was struggling. Austin will be a big player for us this year, too, as will Dylan. After last season, I know they’re all hungry to win.”

Contact Bob Narang at This feature was presented by Tom Peck Ford in Huntley.

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep sports for the past 23 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.