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They're two of a kind
By Mike Garofola | Daily Herald Correspondent

Schaumburg's Josh Beard, left, and Conant's Eric Marofske share the title of honorary captain for the Daily Herald's All-Area boys soccer team.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/2/2007 12:17 AM

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The many boys soccer fans who've admired the play of Eric Marofske and Josh Beard no doubt have noted the similarities between those fine players.

Both have very quick soccer minds, razor-sharp reaction skills, and the calm judgment of veterans. And both play with confidence, energy and a passion which shows they are both among the elite in the state this season.

Marofske, a senior forward from Conant, and Beard, a junior defender from Schaumburg, have been chosen honorary co-captains of the Daily Herald's boys soccer all team.

Marofske earned Mid-Suburban West player of the year honors before picking up a second straight all-state plaque, and, most recently, recognition as an All-American.

Beard helped lead Schaumburg to a supersectional appearance. He also earned a berth on the all-state team and somehow managed to carry a family tradition -- he follows brother Ephraim (now playing at Bradley), who last year shared the co-captain award with Prospect's Pari Pantazopoulous, who is now playing professionally in Greece.

"I finally made a name for myself," laughed Josh Beard. "Coach (Hamid Mehreiouskouei) kept calling me 'Little Eph' during training camp and into the early part of the season. But as the year went on, I think I was able to make an impression on coach because now he calls me 'Beardo.'

"I am really proud to be alongside Eric. To be honest, it's something that I have been thinking about ever since I began to read and see it in the paper, and especially since I starting playing high school soccer."

"I think it's something a lot of us set our sights on, because it means something special to be recognized to be among the best in the area," said Marofske, who is the first Conant player to win the Herald's award since Bryan Dahlquist was named top player following the 2002 season. That year, the Cougars advanced to the state tournament and Dahlquist recorded 29 goals and 15 under coach Tony Kees.

"As great as Dahlquist was, I firmly believe that Eric might be the best we've ever had at Conant," said Kees, who stepped down after 20-plus years to help lead the new Chicago Fire Player Development Academy. "Bryan was a brilliant player, and more of (vocal) player and leader. But Eric's ability to break down a defense, go to goal at will and his talent as a technician is second to none."

Marofske, who set the school's all-time career assists record with 38 this season, was a precocious goal-scorer and pinpoint finisher who has the ability to influence a match with a creative imagination that was a joy to watch.

Except for the opponent.

"He's a pest," said Beard. "Eric is amazing to just watch play, but I can tell you that I had to man-mark him in our two matches and he got us for 2 goals."

The three-plus year starter, who has spent time in the Olympic Development Player system during the past 3-4 years, says he'll miss playing for Kees and the atmosphere of high school soccer.

"Tony has been my mentor for so long," said Marofske. "And not being around the team, or playing rival schools like Schaumburg and Josh, or going up to Wisconsin every year to play a national power like Marquette (whom Conant defeated this season 1-0), that's something that will be hard to duplicate."

Marofske earned higher praise from Kees for his decision to possibly bypass a collegiate playing career in favor of academics and student life.

"I find it refreshing that Eric is his own man. He may or may not play in college, but he will always have fun with the game."

Since Marofske's postseason awards haul, colleges have began to come calling, but the top vote-getter in his sectional remains firm, for now, with how next season might shape up.

"I am looking to study either engineering or business at either Michigan, Indiana or Illinois, and, for now, soccer is in the back of my mind until I figure everything else out," said Marofske, who in a class of nearly 700 is in the top 10 with a weighted 4.00 GPA.

Beard's Saxons, meanwhile, ended Marofske's career and Conant's season when they surprised the top seed in the regional finals in a shootout.

That victory fueled a wonderful postseason run by the Saxons which only ended Monday when Rockford Boylan prevailed 2-1 in OT at the DeKalb supersectional.

"I am so glad to be playing high school soccer and for Hamid," said Beard. "I play for a great (club) team, the Sockers, and that team has had so much success, but this is the most exciting time of my life right now."

Mehreiouskouei is more than pleased to have Beard on the squad: "Josh is the best defender around. Period."

"The great thing about playing for (Mehreiouskouei) is that he's been where we're all at right now and had a ton of success at the high school and college level," said Beard. "There's a lot of respect for him, and I have learned plenty from him."

In a tug of war along the back, it would be hard to bet against Beard.

The hallmarks of this future NCAA Division I player are his ball-winning ability, command of his position, work ethic, fierce tackling and air strength. And, as a striker in the club season, a dangerous weapon when going forward.

"Josh just loves to play this game," Mehreiouskouei said. "His has terrific discipline, he's athletic, can defend, trains and plays at a higher level than anyone else. He's a great kid to have around."

Beard, who finished with 15 goals from out of the back with 8 assists, admits a warm-weather college (perhaps UCLA) might be more to his liking, but NIU and St. John's are in the recruiting picture as well.

For now, the junior will relish this past season and share what has happened to him of late.

"I talked to Eph and he was real happy for me and said he wished he could have stayed around one more year to play with me and the team," Josh Beard said. "There was a little pressure on me at the start to play up to the expectations of what my brother was able to do. But as this season went on, that went away and I just focused on what I can do to make our team the best it could be."

Both players were awarded captain's armbands for their respective club due to the outstanding leadership qualities during the match and for their sporting behavior as student-athletes.