Based on the number of top players returning, the Big Northern boys soccer race will be tight at the top.
And based on the early results, it might be very top heavy.
On Tuesday’s first night of conference action, Rockford Christian crushed North Boone 10-0 and Dixon rolled over Winnebago 8-0. Those two winners, along with Stillman Valley, make up the Big 3 in the BNC.
The Cardinals rolled through the regular season last year, going 9-0 and reaching the Class 1A sectional semifinal. Rockford Christian also made it to the sectional semifinal, and both could be on a collision course for the BNC title and a deep postseason run.
But don’t count out a deep and talented Dixon squad.
Here is a team-by-team look at the Big Northern boys soccer season in predicted order of finish:
ROCKFORD CHRISTIAN ROYAL LIONS
Coach: Eron Harvey (2nd season)
Last year: 6-1-2 in BNC
Top Returnees: Andy Volk (SR, For/Mid), Max Cincinnati (SR, MID), Cole Dunn (SR, CB), Jace Joiner (SR, GK), Dominic Meyer (SR, For)
Top Newcomers: Ben Wood (SO, Mid), Isaiah Romero (ISR, Def.), Tyler Barefield (SO, Def)
Analysis: The Royal Lions are one of the most experienced and talented teams in the Big Northern. It starts with a trio of all-BNC and all-Sectional players in Andy Volk, Max Cincinnati and Cole Dunn. They are joined by all-BNC performers Jace Joiner and Dominic Meyer to form a deep and talented roster. Rockford Christian is a contender and will battle with Stillman Valley for the crown.
STILLMAN VALLEY CARDINALS
Coach: Brian Frank (5th season)
Last year: 9-0 in BNC
Top Returnees: Adam Wenberg (SR, For), Noah Wenberg (SR, Mid), Cade Sasse (SR, Def), Daniel Miller (SR, Def), Clay Smith (SR, Mid)
Top Newcomers: Kilton Rauman (SR, GK), Luke Robert (SR, Mid)
Analysis: The two-time defending champs are again among the favorites with the return of all-BNC players Clay Smith and Adam and Noah Wenberg. The difference between the Cardinals and Royal Lions may be depth of experience, as Stillman Valley lost 11 seniors to graduation and only has a few juniors. That means sophomores will have to be key players, filling the gaps.
Coach: Josh Brigl (4th season)
Last year: 5-2-2 in BNC
Top Returnees: Ethan Fox (SO, CB), Borton Glessner (SO, Mid), Noah Grot (JR, Def.), Kade Fulton (JR, For), Adrian Rodriguez (SR, Mid), Quinten Hoyle (SR, Mid), AJ Schmall (SR, CB)
Key Newcomers: Groesen Blumhoff (SO, Mid)
Analysis: Dixon has great defense and overall team speed, and with the return of seven starters, including all-BNC picks Ethan Fox, Boston Glessner, Kade Fulton and AJ Schmall, the Dukes are definitely a title contender. In fact, Coach Brigl called his team “the top of the food chain in our conference. We will surprise a lot of teams.”
Coach: Jason Artman
Last year: 6-2-1 in BNC
Top Players: No information provided
Coach: Randy Tate (12th season)
Last year: 6-3 in BNC
Top Returnees: Ben Reams (SR, Mid), Ian Barker (SR, Def.), Jacob Smith (SR, Mid), Pedro Tinajero (SR, Mid), Omar Ortega-Lara (SR, Mid), Michael Trzynka (SR, Def), jack Bouque (JR, Mid)
Top Newcomers: Brian Ortega (JR), Lorenzo Diaz (JR), Sergio Acosta (JR), Kalvin Zimmerman (JR), Juan Campos (SO), Aljo Pacheco (SO)
Analysis: The Cogs have good numbers with the largest team ever, including 12 seniors. G-K has a great mix of older players and younger, untested ones as well, but they lost a lot of scoring from last season. Look for the Cogs to finish around the middle of the BNC and maybe claim the spoiler role.
Coach: Seger Larson (3rd season)
Last year: 2-7 in BNC
Top Returnees: Brigham Finch (SR, For), Josh Sitze (JR, Mid), Johnny Acosta (SR, Mid), Landon Lazansky (JR, Def), Grant Cermack (SO, Def), Eli Rufer (JR, Def)
Top Newcomers: Owen Ketter (SO, GK), Ryan Lazansky (SR, Def), Jayden Davis (SO, Mid), Adam Thorsen (SO, Mid), Liam Dicksen-Harriet (FR, Mid), Joey Gelander (FR, Mid)
Analysis: The Hawks bring back six starters including their core defense and the conference’s No. 2 scorer in Josh Sitze. Oregon will be a tough opponent for anyone, but lacks the speed and overall experience to threaten at the top.
Coach: Andy Stavnem (1st season)
Last year: 4-5 in BNC
Top Returnees: Aydin Lambert (SO, CM), Connor Harn (SR, GK), Nathan Penrod (SR, S), Will Carlson (SR, Mid), Evan Walters (SR, Def)
Top Newcomers: Trent Allen (JR), Oliver Jones (JR), Alek Stranberg (JR), Jeremy Charles (SR, Ethan Fortener (SR), Jakob Kullman (SR)
Analysis:The Tigers bring back five starters, led by Aydin Lambert, who received all-BNC honors as a freshman. He is joined by Connor Harn, another all-conference player. But Byron lacks overall experience at the varsity level and may be a few scorers short of contending.
NORTH BOONE VIKINGS
Coach: Bruce Ford (2nd season)
Last year: 0-8-1 in BNC
Top Returnees: Jon Cechini (SR, For), Jesus Arroyo (SR, Mid), Juan Rodriguez (JR, For), Ulises Morales (SR, Mid), Miguel Rodriguez (JR, For), Fernando Medrano (SR, Mid), Colton Morrall (SR, Def), Manuel Talavera (JR, Def), Luis Talavera (SR, Def), Carlos Zuniga (JR, GK), Michael Whalen (JR, Def)
Analysis: The Vikings only lost two players from last season, so they don’t lack for experience. With that strong core back, look for North Boone to climb out of the BNC basement.
Coach: Kelly Szymanski
Last year: 1-8 in BNC
Top Players: No information provided
ROCKFORD LUTHERAN CRUSADERS
Coach: Dyan Lofgren (1st season)
Last year: 3-6 in BNC
Top Returnees: Caleb Perry (SR, MId), Deep Patel (SR, For/Mid)
Top Newcomers: Joshua Adams (SR), Caleb Richard (SO), Matthew Casey (SO), Alex Ulage (SO)
Analysis: After graduating nine players, the Crusaders are in a rebuild mode. The young players will learn as the season progresses, but expect Lutheran to be near the bottom of the BNC.
— Randy Ruef, Sportsfan 1330