By Bob Narang

Prep Sports Report –

Rockford Boylan junior midfielder Victor Ibarra surveyed the scene around him, glancing to his left and then shifting his head to the right before cracking a slight smile.

Ibarra and his teammates had just accomplished a major milestone for their Class 2A program: Beating Class 3A heavyweight Lyons in bracket play of the 2021 Showdown Series presented by PepsiCo at Olympic Park.

The Titans won both of their games in the massive 19th annual event, making the program’s first appearance in the showcase a memorable experience. Ibarra’s squad defeated Addison Trail 1-0 on Opening Day.

Next up is Class 3A defending state champion, West Chicago, on PepsiCo Championship Sunday.

“It was a great experience for our team to come out there, experience this and play against some really quality teams,” Ibarra said, an NIC-10 First-Team All-Conference player last season. “This is amazing playing against two new and great teams.

“It’s going to be amazing and fun bus ride (to Championship Sunday). We learned a lot from this weekend. Even though the teams were tough, we didn’t give up and pushed it to the end of each match.”

Boylan soccer coach Bart Boguszewski said it was a great experience for his players, but not just because they won both games.

“With us being a club-oriented team, we thought it was going to be a great experience with all the college coaches coming and the high level of play,” Boguszewski said. “Other than the state tournament, you don’t get to play or experience something like this.”

Senior midfielder Taylor Sowell brought the large contingent of Boylan fans to their feet by scoring the winning goal against Lyons in the 67th minute. The Titans celebrated by jumping all over Sowell following his goal.

“It was a really good win to help us get to Championship Sunday,” Sowell said. “We had a rough start, but then we started to play together.

“We had a lot of fans, and they really helped us. It was a really good experience, a lot of quality teams. It was great.”

Junior defender Nathan Dorado noted the entire team cherished competing in the prestigious event, which features a DJ pumping in loud music, lifesize player posters lined up along the fences and top-level competition.

“It’s really a big deal for us since we’ve never been here,” Dorado said. “We were trying to show everyone that we belong.

“We’re learning we can bring it to teams. We were very excited to take part. This was special just to be here.”

The Titans welcomed the opportunity to play non-Rockford-based competition and compete in the Showdown Series. Under previous coach Chris Mera, Boylan won a state title in 2010. They posted a 9-1 record in the shortened 2021 spring season and return seven starters to be a contender for a 2A state title this fall.

“The Pepsi Showdown gave us a chance to play in different classes, especially since we’re out of Rockford,” Boguszewski said. “It’s tough for us to find good competition.

“This was an awesome experience. It’s a great time for us to see where we stand.

“We have a very talented group, so it was nice to showcase ourselves and figure things out – even when things don’t go well. It makes it even better to win and compete against top-level teams.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 26 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.