The Railers have set numerous individual and team records this
season, with a chance to set more records as postseason play begins
on Tuesday night in the Normal West Regional. No. 3-seeded Lincoln
takes on No. 2-seeded Normal University High at 6:30 p.m.
wins and 10 losses, the Railers have already tied the school record
for victories in a season, previously set by the 2004 and 2006
squads. A win on Tuesday night would give the 2012 team sole
possession of the record.
The Railers can also expand on a record they already own: goals
in a season. Lincoln has scored 68 goals thus far, besting the
previous mark of 62.
Coach Tim Stuckey said he expected his team might be strong
offensively this season.
But even he says the Railers have exceeded his high expectations,
even after a slow start to the season.
"Going into the season, I thought we'd have a pretty decent
offense," said Stuckey. "But they've played even better than I
thought they would. Our goal scoring on offense has been very
"At the beginning of the season, we were 1-4. … It was after that
when we really started clicking. If we could have those games back,
play those same teams right now, I think we might have had some more
wins. It took us a little bit to figure out who goes where. But
overall, we've had a pretty successful year."
More evidence of the skill of the Lincoln offense this season:
The Railers have three scorers with double-digit goal totals in
Tommy Harris, Kyle Klockenga and Ryan Sloan.
Coming into the season, no Railer soccer player had finished with
double-digit goals since 2007.
"We haven't had a double-digit scorer for five years," summarized
Stuckey. "This year, we had three. Normally, we have none."
Harris plays his way into record books
While Stuckey points out that the Railers are no "one-man show,"
there's no doubt who the Railers' leading man is this season.
Harris has had arguably the best individual season in the history
of the LCHS soccer program. He has tied for goals in a season with
24, a record previously held solely by Joey Papuga in 2004. With a
goal on Tuesday night, Harris would own that record himself.
This season, he has already set the school records for assists in
a season, assists in a career and points in a season.
A humble team leader, Harris would rather talk about team
successes. Harris points to defenders Joey Olden and Will Podbelsek
as being keys to what has been a successful shift from a 4-4-2
formation to a 3-5-2 formation this season, which has allowed the
Railers to be more aggressive on offense.
"It's been a good year for me individually, but more importantly,
a great year for the team," said Harris. "(Against Bloomington on
Oct. 4) we broke the team record for goals in a season, so that's
really cool. (The team success) is what's really what is most
Harris attributed his success this year to a combination of
assistance from his teammates and being on a personal mission to
light up the scoreboard.
"A lot of credit goes to my teammates, for putting me in scoring
situations," said Harris. "But, this year, I think I said at the
beginning of the season, I wanted to take more of a scoring role,
and I've done that. I've been a pretty dedicated scorer. Guys like
Ryan Sloan (10 goals) and Kyle Klockenga (14 goals) have stepped up.
Kyle had a hat trick (against Bloomington).
"Having other guys who can score helps a lot when you have a
defense that can shut down one player. It makes for a really dynamic
Stuckey echoed Harris' thoughts on the advantages of a balanced
"As a coach, I would hope teams would try to mark Tommy or try to
take him out of the game. Because if they did that, that would mean
someone else was open," said Stuckey. "And Tommy was good enough to
hold on to the ball and hit one of those guys, who are good at
scoring goals too.
"It wasn't a one-man show. But if that's what people thought, we
were able to put some other goals in, besides the one that Tommy
scored or assisted on."
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Stuckey listed Harris as being among the top three players he's
had in his tenure as Lincoln's head coach.
What makes Harris special, the coach says, is the combination of
hard work and knowledge of the game.
Both of those things can be attributed to the amount of soccer
Harris has played in the offseason. Harris has played for club
soccer programs throughout his high school career.
"He's always played club ball. He literally has played a lot more
soccer than his teammates," said Stuckey. "He continued to play
spring club ball. That's a lot more practices, a lot more games and
a lot more touches on the ball, which is obviously going to make you
more skilled than people who don't practice as much. "He's also
extremely intelligent in the classroom and, in sports, that
translates well onto the field. You can't really (teach) smarts as a
coach. Some kids have good game sense, some kids don't. Tommy makes
great decisions on quick plays."
Stuckey says Harris' improvement from his freshman to senior year
has been "ridiculous."
"Tommy had a few junior varsity goals, but no more than six or
seven, and I think one varsity goal as a freshman," said Stuckey.
"Then as a sophomore, he had maybe three varsity goals. As a junior,
it was six or seven. He obviously made a lot of significant leaps,
but especially from junior to senior."
The show must go on
While it's been a successful, record-setting season already, the
Railers are still hungry for more.
"My goal right now, and I think the entire team's goal, is to
advance further in postseason play because for a long time, Lincoln
soccer has been one-and-done in regionals," said Harris. "I think
it'd be really cool to put a run together in the postseason."
That may be feasible, given their play in recent weeks.
Lincoln took down the regional's No. 1 seed, Bloomington, on
Senior Night at Handlin Field, winning by a final of 6-3.
"Right now, we're playing with great energy. This is the best
we've been playing all year," said Harris. "I think it's the right
time of the season to be on top of our game.
"Beating the top team in our regional gives us a lot of
confidence. I think confidence is really important in the way we
play. It helps us, because we haven't all been playing soccer our
entire lives. It helps us against a team like Bloomington, where
half of their team plays soccer way more than we do. It tells us
that we've got talent, and it's not just about how much you play in
Lincoln lost to Normal University High by a 4-1 tally on Oct. 6,
but Stuckey says it was far from his team's best performance and
that the Railers are quite capable of getting to the regional final,
where they would likely face Bloomington again.
"We played U-High in the Jacksonville tournament, and we played
terrible. They beat us 4-1 and it wasn't much of a game," said
Stuckey. "Our defense and midfield wasn't what it normally is. But
that might give us an advantage. They might not be expecting the
kind of team that we could put out there on Tuesday night. If we
come out and play the way we did when we hosted Bloomington, we
could win that game."
No matter the result of their postseason, Stuckey says he's proud
of how far his group of six seniors has come.
"These seniors suffered a lot in the last three years," said
Stuckey. "We knew each year that went by, the next year would be
better. When they were freshmen, we were a team that got smoked
every game and only won two games. That year, we scored 14 goals and
gave up 104. This year, we've scored 68 and given up somewhere in
"When they were freshman, we won two games. As sophomores, we won
four games. Last year, it was six games. You figured this year would
be better, but we actually almost doubled last year's win total.
They've really jumped up this final year."
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]