By Bob Narang 

@PrepSportsRep – 

Football is king at Joliet Catholic. 

The Hilltoppers rolled to an undefeated season to record their 15th state championship in football program history last season.  

On the other side of the spectrum, Joliet Catholic boys soccer coach Tom Cranmer is looking to add to the school’s trophy case by lifting his program to new heights this season. 

Led by senior midfielder Ramon Rios, the Hilltoppers are aiming high after winning a Class 1A regional title last fall. 

“We’re going to be young because we graduated some big pieces, but we have several freshmen capable of adjusting to the size and speed difference on the varsity,” Cranmer said. “We like to play an exciting brand of soccer.  

“We have a lot of depth with 11 freshmen coming in to the program. We’re going to be a lot more attacking than the past couple of years.  

“We have the personnel to do it. This is one of the more hopeful seasons I’ve had in a while. I can see us taking a couple of steps.” 

Rios, who scored 14 goals and handed out seven assists in his junior season, is one of the leaders on the team. He helped organize off-season workouts to get his teammates ready to compete in the 2022 BODYARMOR Series at Olympic Park in Schaumburg. 

“This year I’m hoping to inspire everyone on the team to leave it all on the field and give it their all,” Rios said. “I see a lot of potential on the team.  

“We have a lot of new faces this year, but we will need every last one of them. We’re hoping all our hard work pays off at the end of the season.” 

Senior forward Aldo Estrada, a four-year starter, is coming off a solid season. He registered 14 goals and four assists. At 6-foot-3, Johnny Budz, a senior goalie, is an imposing presence in the net to give Cranmer a solid trio to build upon. 

“Ramon’s soccer IQ has grown over the years,  and he’s a very physically gifted player who can run for days,” Cranmer said. “Aldo is a pure striker – crafty guy on the ball and can beat you with his speed off the dribble.  

“Johnny can run the defense and is very confident. We’re looking for him to be more of a leader.” 

The Hilltoppers compete in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference. Cranmer said the tough conference slate will help his team prepare for the playoffs. Rios noted the BODYARMOR Series is a good testing ground for his team. 

“Last year we made it to the championship (day), and I hope to go even further this year,” Rios said. “It’s going to take all of us, but I believe in our squad.” 

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 28 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.