The past and present intertwine this week at the age-group national championships in both men's and women's soccer in Germantown, Maryland.
Last year top programs and elite players from the Sun-Times' coverage area showcased their abilities on a national level and helped solidify the Chicago market as an top-notch training ground.
This year is more of the same, as well as inflaming the debate about the developing conflict on the national merits of club and high school play. Like prep basketball, soccer is now a year-round sport, and the best players are often confronted with the dilemma of whether to swing back and forth between travel play and the traditional high school experience or dedicate their time exclusively to club play.
Roughly sixty percent of the country's state athletic associations separates the seasons for boys and girls; by having its season in the spring, young women in Illinois have a few options and many of the best players opt to play club during the fall and winter and then perform for their high school teams in the spring.
By playing in the fall, the boys have fewer options, and the high school game has been hurt by the rise of club and academy teams.
One rationale and justification for the considerable costs and resources for playing exclusively in club is the need to compete better at the national level and greater exposure to college recruiting with the national travel.
With the men's and women's games played in the fall exclusively at the college level, summer and fall national tournaments take on an exaggerated role. When New Trier rising junior forward Kelly Maday made an oral commitment to Illinois, for instance, she said the timing was shaped by the school's own recruiting time table.
The nationals offer their own chance at coronation. Still, it also provides a rare chance for former local stars to reconnect with friends and former high school teammates for national recognition.
In the women's U19 class, the Aurora-based Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo again draws from some of the greatest players in recent Illinois state history to defend its national title of a year ago.
The nucleus of the club is a clutch of former stars from Naperville North, Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and Plainfield North. Kentucky rising sophomore Zoe Swift, who led Naperville North to back-to-back Class 3A state titles in 2012 and 2013, scored two goals in the championship game last year.
College sophomore Ashley Handwork, the Sun-Times Player of the Year last year, assisted both goals by Swift. Her younger sister Heather Handwork, first team Sun-Times All-Area player for the Tigers, is one of two 2014 graduates on the roster (joined by Neuqua Valley graduate Katie Ciesiulka). The two Handworks and Ciesiulka all play for Marquette.
The other top players on the squad are former Neuqua Valley stars Gianna Dal Pozzo (Miami) and Zoey Goralski (UCLA), former Waubonsie Valley standout Jenna Romano (Wake Forest) and Metea Valley great Megan Geldernick (Ohio State). The Botafogo club program obliterated the argument you have to play club year round to compete effectively at the national level. Last year's entire roster played competitive high school and then made the very smooth transition to club in capturing the national crown, without suffering any loss of chemistry or team cohesion.
At the Regional II championships in Beavercreek, Ohio, Botafogo annihilated the rest of the field in outscoring the competition by an aggregate of 21-2. Ashley Handwork scored six goals as the program won its third consecutive Regional title.
The program opens preliminary play on Tuesday, July 22nd, against California-based Legends FC, at 1 p.m., CST. Each of the four teams in the U19 bracket play three round-robin games before until single elimination play starts on Saturday.
In the U17 bracket, the Naperville-based NSA Jaguars, under the direction of Bonnie Young of North Central College, qualified for its second consecutive nationals.
Last year the team struggled at this stage after Naperville North star Abbie Boswell suffered a knee injury. Boswell is fully healthy, and she played spectacularly for a young and talented Huskies team the final six weeks of the high school season this spring. Boswell and Barrington's Jenna Szczesny are the state's top senior prospects.
Also, Waubonsie Valley rising junior Paige Filipek, after missing her sophomore year with injury, is fully recovered. Filipek led the Warriors in scoring as a freshman two years ago. Lyons' recent graduate Erin Fitzgerald, who is about to start her college career at Cornell, provides a strong and physical presence in the midfield. Eleven of the 18 players on the roster are already committed to play in college.
The U17 field is a two-group, eight pool bracket. The Jaguars open preliminary play Tuesday morning against the Kansas-based KC Metro Dynamos.
The aforementioned Maday of state champion New Trier leads the Northfield-based FC United Select in the U16 bracket. Maday is one of five New Trier players on the squad, with top defender Jen Fishman, midfielders Celia Frei, Bina Saipi and two superb keepers, Dani Kaufman and Michelle Sokal.
Maday keys the top of the attack with Loyola rising junior Devin Burns, first team All-Area performer who's also fully recovered from last year's ACL injury and Glenbrook South's Olivia Peters. The team is coached by Loyola's Craig Snowers. Another player to watch is rising Ramblers' junior KK Phelan, who demonstrated some very elite scoring skills in relatively limited minutes as an underclassman for the Ramblers last spring.
FC United Select is in Group A of its bracket and opens preliminary play against California program Carlsbad Elite 97/98 on Tuesday afternoon.
Starting Tuesday, please check this space for updates regarding local teams and players in both the boys and girls club finals. Additional information is also available at www.championships.usyouthsoccer.org