Chicago Sun-Times

On the Ball

By Patrick Z. McGavin

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

She is not even eligible to drive yet.


She is a string of precocity who commands a lot of attention. New Trier rising junior Kelly Maday has blossomed into one of the top soccer forwards in the country.


The dynamic 5-6 Maday committed to play at the University of Illinois and its coach, Janet Rayfield. Maday formed a devastating 1-2 scoring package with graduated New Trier star Maddie Mulford (Bucknell).


Maday does not turn 16-years-old until the middle of August. Maday, who made the Sun-Times' second-team All-area team, has emerged as the state's top player in the class of 2016. "I went [to Illinois] for an unofficial visit before the high school season this year, and I just fell in love with the school, the academics and the soccer program," Maday said.


Maday scored 19 goals and recorded 22 assists as the Trevians finished a remarkable 31-1 and captured the Class 3A state title at North Central College last month. She demonstrated a startling ability to play at her best in the most important games.


She scored the game-winning goals against No. 3 Barrington in the supersectional and against No. 2 Waubonsie Valley in the state semifinals. "Kelly goes zero to 60 in nothing," Jim Burnside, the New Trier coach, said about her.


"She can accelerate, [reminding] me of a sports car that as starts to accelerate she gets lower to the ground, and you see that fifth and sixth gear and she is dangerous all over the field."


Maday also scored two goals as the Trevians beat Buffalo Grove 3-1 at Toyota Park in winning the PepsiCo Showdown.


Most impressively, Maday made a remarkable and quick recovery after she missed her entire freshman year following knee surgery in April of 2013. She did not play competitive soccer until last July. "That experience definitely taught me a lot, and helped me realize what I was missing out on," she said. 'I just wanted to get back out there and work hard."


Increasingly at the high school level, college coaches recruit off the club circuit. Maday plays with FC United, the program founded by Loyola coach Craig Snower. The Ramblers are New Trier's greatest soccer rival (New Trier beat Loyola in a sectional final this year). Still, Snower is a New Trier graduate and former assistant boys coach there and is close friends with Burnside.


Five other Trevian players, including Celia Frei, Dani Kaufman and Bina Saipi, are on the same U-17 Select 1 program.


Maday consulted with Snower and indicated the programs she was interested in, including Illinois. She declined to name the other programs recruiting her, but said they were many of the top programs in the Midwest. With the college women's season in the fall, they push for early commitments. "There was no other place I wanted to go at that point," she said.


Maday's club program qualified for the nationals next month in Maryland.


She is now working at shaping and refining her already lethal game. "I'm hoping to grow more at the tactical level," she said. "I'm interested in protecting my skill and just sharpening up everything."

Soccer naturally turns to club play and the graduating seniors who are taking their game to the next level, in college. Many of the best players have already left home and are taking summer school classes and working out in preparation for the start of the women's college season, a fall sport.


Here's how the girls season finished out: In Class 3A, top-ranked New Trier won an IHSA record 31 games by defeating St. Charles East 1-0 in the state championship at North Central College in Naperville. The Trevians upended previous top-ranked Waubonsie Valley 1-0 in a state semifinal, avenging their only loss of the season. The Warriors defeated Lincoln-Way North in the third place game.


In Class 2A, Lake Forest beat Normal West on penalty kicks for its first state championship. Glenwood defeated Hinsdale South in the third-place game.


In Class 1A, Manteno dominated Rochester 4-0 behind the superb play of Emily Gaither and Sophia Schnitzler for its second state title in the last five years. The Panthers edged St. Edward in penalty kicks in a bruising state semifinal. The Wave beat Rockford Christian to finish third, its highest state finish in program history.


The natural inclination is to look forward. Girls soccer is somewhat volatile year to year, especially in the club era as players elect to either bypass high school to focus on club or returning club players, having secured a college scholarship, return to the fold of the traditional high school experience. All things being equal, this is a loose look at the spring of 2015, with teams and players to watch.


New Trier: The Trevians graduate star forward Maddie Mulford (25 goals, 11 assists), Molly Cahill and college-bound Sarah Connors (Trinity) and Meg Wozniak (Dennison). Coach Jim Burnside has another powerhouse in the making with the state's top rising junior, electric forward Kelly Maday (19 goals, 22 assists), midfielders Bina Saipi and Celia Frei, rising senior forward Maggie Armstrong and two excellent goalies in rising juniors Dani Kaufman and Michelle Sokal.


Waubonsie Valley: Sun-Times' player of the year Kristen Dodson is taking her talents to Auburn; second-team all-area selection Mackenzie Fuller (UIC) is going to be missed. Still, the Warriors are stacked at every position and have multiple Division 1-level players returning, including midfielders Morgan Kemerling, Jori Romano, defender Tori Christiansen, forward Sarah Laws and gifted rising sophomore Maggie Roe. Emma Rigby, one of the state's top goalies, is also back. Rising junior Paige Filipek, the team's best player two years ago, returns from an ACL knee injury.


St. Charles East: The Class 3A state runner-ups must also account for some heavy graduation losses. Still, coach Paul Jennison returns some big-time players, led by rising senior forward Darcy Cunningham, rising senior midfielder Kelli Santo Paulo, rising sophomore forward Claire Rasmussen and rising junior defender Sonia Ost, a second-time all-area performer.


Lincoln-Way North: In just its sixth year of existence, the Phoenix stunned Lyons to qualify for the state finals, where it finished fourth. Coach Mike Murphy must replace standout goalie Bethany Dombrowski and top defenders Brenna Stremlau and Lexi Cesario. The nucleus of his 22-win team returns, led by rising junior forward Rachel Pappas, rising senior Sarah Mirabella and two excellent midfielders, rising sophomore Bianca Galassini and rising junior Carly Marchal.


Barrington: The Fillies lost a 1-0 heartbreaker against New Trier in the supersectional. Coach Ryan Stengren suffered across the board graduation losses. He features the state's best player, Jenna Szczesny (30 goals, 15 assists) and some very talented underclassmen. Rising senior Hannah Luedtke has started every game as a goalie since her freshman year.


Loyola: The Rambers lost in the sectional final to rival New Trier. Coach Craig Snower graduated several highly talented players (Tori Iatarola, goalie Lauren Smith) whose intangibles are hard to replace. Still, he has probably the best junior class in the state, led by forward Devin Burns, first team all-area who is going to be fully recovered from off-season ACL knee surgery. Rising sophomore forward Katia Novi looks to be the program's next breakout star.


Naperville North: After three consecutive state title appearances and back-to-back Class 3A state championships, the Huskies experienced their own growing pains in this transitional year. Rising senior Abbie Boswell, after a slow start coming off knee surgery, was dynamite the last month of the season. She rates with Barrington's Szczesny as the state's best player. Rising senior Olivia Stapleton also had a breakthrough year. Goalie Fiona Baenziger is also top-notch. If Kayla Sharples, one of the best players in the country, returns from club, the Huskies are set up for another state championship run.


Lake Forest: Two cornerstones of the Scouts' state title team, midfielder Lucy Edwards and defender Sydney Johnston, have graduated. Coach Ty Stuckslager returns a deep roster led by the Hoke twins, rising senior midfielder Carly and defender Kendall. A superb junior class features forwards Jenny McKendry, Sheridan Weiss, midfielders Paige Bourne, Camille Cook and defenders Allie Banta and Adrian Walker.


Glenbrook North: The Titans ended the year on a disappointing note after being upset in the regional semifinals of the Class 3A state tournament. The team features two foundational players, rising senior and returning all-area player Kaily Bruch and rising junior forward Olivia Peters. Coach Ha Seong returns plenty of underclassmen who either started or saw extended action.


Plainfield North: The Handwork era is over, with the great Heather joining her sister, 2013 player of the year Ashley, at Marquette. Jane Crowe has a deep and talented feeder program to draw from in maintaining excellence. Two rising seniors, midfielder Erin Chynoweth and defender Brooke Polonus, are the returning standouts and are backed by a talented junior class.


The Public League is again likely to come down to the battle between defending city champion Young and Lane. The Dolphins return their dynamic all-area star rising senior forward Esme Kline and her classmates Andrea Gomes and Morgan Hawthorne. Defender Gaby Schwartz is the top rising junior.


The Indians counter with the city's top prospect, rising senior Sofia Pavon. She leads an excellent rising senior class with Natalie Wade and Anastasia Niforos. Andrea Cervantes, Nicole Vega and Detzi Reveles are the top rising juniors.


After winning its first state sectional in program history, Northside is the other program on the rise, led by rising junior Sarah Mullen and rising senior Bella Manobianco.


Other teams to watch next year: St. Charles North, Lyons, Neuqua Valley, Naperville Central, Huntley, St. Edward, Hinsdale Central, Metea Valley, Libertyville, Lake Zurich, Deerfield, Maine South, Wheaton Warrenville South, Hinsdale South, Warren, St. Ignatius, York.

This year's All-Area team was versatile, deep and highly skilled. Here is a quick refresher on the 33 players that made up the Sun-Times three All-Area teams.


First team


Devin Burns, So., Forward, Loyola
Kristen Dodson, Sr., Forward, Waubonsie Valley, Player of the Year
Maddie Mulford, Sr., Forward, New Trier
Jenna Szczesny, Jr., Forward, Barrington


Meaghan Gelinas, Sr., Midfielder, Lake Zurich
Heather Handwork, Sr., Midfielder, Plainfield North
Jenna Kentgen, Sr., Midfielder, Metea Valley
Kelli Zickert, Sr., Buffalo Grove, Midfielder


Jenny Barr, Sr., Defender, St. Charles North
Talise Romain, Sr., Defender, Neuqua Valley


Morgan Harris, Sr.,Goalie, Hersey


Second team


Abbie Boswell, Jr., Forward, Naperville North
Allie Ingham, Sr., Forward, Buffalo Grove
Kelly Maday, So., Forward, New Trier
Sophie Pohl, Sr., Forward, St. Charles North


Katie Ciesiulka, Sr., Midfielder, Neuqua Valley
Lucy Edwards, Sr., Midfielder, Lake Forest
Kim Jerantowski, Sr., Midfielder, Lemont
Emily Lange, Sr., Midfielder, Lyons


Sonia Ost, So., Defender, St. Charles East
Sarah Warren, Sr., Defender, Hinsdale South


Emma Rigby, Jr., Goalie, Waubonsie Valley


Third team


Emily Gaither, Sr., Forward, Manteno
Lauren Gierman, Sr., Forward, Hersey
Esme Kline, Jr., Forward, Young
Allison Kruk, Sr., Forward, St. Edward


Kaily Bruch, Jr., Midfielder, Glenbrook South
Mackenzie Fuller, Sr., Midfielder, Waubonsie Valley
Sofia Pavon, Jr., Midfielder, Lane
Taryn Yakubowski, So., Midfielder, Huntley


Lexi Cesario, Sr., Defender, Lincoln-Way North
Drew Wentzel, Sr., Defender, Conant


Kendra Sheehan, Sr., Goalie, St. Charles East


As great these teams were, the reality is many high-level players, who had great individual seasons and played on elite teams and are going to play at a high level in college, were left off. As a point of comparison, the all-state teams selected by the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association (IHSSCA) had 80 all-state players, of whom nearly 50 are players from the Sun-Times' coverage area.


More than 20 players deemed all-state by the coaches were left off the Sun-Times' All-Area team. Here is a comprehensive of the other standouts this spring in girls soccer, listed alphabetically by their primary position.


Forwards: Olivia Amdur, Jr., Parker; Maggie Armstrong, Jr., New Trier; Jessica Bianchi, Jr., York; Erin Fitzgerald, Sr., Lyons; Darcy Cunningham, Jr., St. Charles East; Chelsea Gnan, Jr., St. Edward; Mia Hollingsworth, Jr., Libertyville; Emily Kellow, Jr., Deerfield; Gianna Marconi, Sr., Downers North; Jenny McKendry, So., Lake Forest; Aleksandra Mihailovic, Jr. Lemont; Sarah Mullen, So., Northside; Caroline Murphy, Sr., Fenwick; Sam O'Brien, Sr., West Aurora; Brittany Paganucci, So., Glenbard East; Rachel Pappas, So., Lincoln-Way North; Alliyah Parker, Fr., Warren; Lexi Pelafas, Jr., Wheaton North; Olivia Peters, So., Glenbrook South; Maggie Roe, Fr., Waubonsie Valley; Sophia Schnitzler, Sr., Manteno; Avalon Senn-Raemont, Sr., McHenry; Sara Stevens, Sr., Plainfield North; Tess Trinka, Sr., Oak Park-River Forest; Savanah Uveges, Sr., South Elgin; Natalie Wade, Jr., Lane; Maura Walsh, Sr., St. Ignatius


Midfielders: Lia Baldo, Sr., Loyola; Katie Baumann, Sr., Benet; Molly Cahill, Sr., New Trier; Leah Celarek, Jr., Conant; Alison Cerny, Sr., Hinsdale Central; Michele Chernesky, Jr., Mundelein; Erin Chynoweth, Jr., Plainfield North; Sammi Farkos, Sr., Homewood-Floosmoor; Celia Frei, Jr., New Trier; Bianca Galassini, Fr., Lincoln-Way North; Skylar Groth, Sr., Buffalo Grove; Amanda Hilton, Sr., St. Charles East; Carly Hoke, Jr., Lake Forest; Tori Iatarola, Sr., Loyola; Alexis Jakuszewski, Jr., WW South; Abby Joyce, Sr., Naperville Central; Alyssa Kovatchis, Jr., York; Morgan Kemerling, Sr., Waubonsie Valley; Corey Lepoudre, Sr., St. Edward; Kyleigh Maday, Sr., Providence; Carrie Madden, Sr., Barrington; Bella Manobianco, Jr., Northside; Michelle Morefield, Sr., Benet; Abigail Nordeen, Sr., Huntley; Hannah Ondrey, Sr., Manteno; Nicole Niro, Sr., Barrington; Emily Osoba, Sr., Sandburg; Mary Rose Pettenuzzo, Sr., Prospect; Monica Ramirez, Sr., St. Edward; Alex Ruffer, Sr., Glenbard East; Jessica Schmidt, Sr., Maine South; Emily Scianna, Fr., Lincoln-Way East; Alena Sidwell, Jr., Metea Valley; Annie Waldoch, Sr., Geneva; Margaret Zahrah, Sr., Young


Defenders: Alyssa Cantore, Sr., Glenbard West; Sarah Connors, Sr., New Trier; Jamie Donahue, Jr., Evanston; Ali Fanning, Sr., Prairie Ridge; Ava Fickle, So., WW South; Taylor Fuderer, Sr., Glenbrook South; Sydney Gountounas, Sr., Andrew; Sydney Johnston, Sr., Lake Forest; Maureen Kerr, Jr., Evanston; Lori Niehaus, Sr., Downers South; Megan O'Leary, Sr., St. Charles North; Kaitlyn McCurley, Sr., Lake Zurich; Brooke Polonus, Jr., Plainfield North; Eden Pritikin, Jr., Latin; Mary Rounce, Sr., Downers North; Katie Sandecki, Sr., Carmel; Nikia Smith, Sr., Bolingbrook; Alexis Strothers, Sr., Warren; Margaret Tuckey, Sr., Lake Zurich; Meredith Tunney, Jr., Naperville Central


Goalies: Amy Annala, Sr., Oswego; Fiona Baenziger, Jr., Naperville North; Lidia Breen, Jr., Lyons; Bethany Dombkowski, Sr., Lincoln-Way North; Paige Dykstra, Jr., St. Edward; Kelly Fritz, Sr., Lemont; Emily O'Grady, Sr., Maine South; Michelle Loyo, Jr., St. Ignatius; Hannah Luedtke, Jr., Barrington; Emma Shores, Sr., Manteno; Lauren Smith, Sr., Loyola

With one state champion already crowned--Manteno in Class 1A--attention now turns to the final week of the girls soccer season as the state's large class groups meet on Tuesday to determine the state semifinalists for Class 2A and Class 3A.


Let's start with Class 3A.


At Lewis University: No. 7 Lyons versus No. 15 Lincoln-Way North
Best player: Lyons' senior Emily Lange


Breakdown: A rematch of a regular-season showdown that saw Lyons edge the Phoenix 1-0. The programs know each other well, having played in each of the last three years. Lyons (19-3) has been exceptional in the state tournament. They defeated a very good Benet team 3-0 in the sectional final. Cincinnati-recruit Lange has a potent leg and is capable of scoring anywhere on the field. Her running mate, Erin Fitzgerald (Cornell), has a size and physical advantage over just about any high school player. Lyons' backline of Grace Nasenbenny, CC Holbert, Sarah Drew and Catherine King has been stellar. Keeper Lidia Breen holds it all together. The Phoenix (21-3-1) are in wholly uncharted territory after winning its first ever sectional title over upstart Mother McAuley. The foundation of the Phoenix is offensive catalyst Brenna Stremlau and keeper Bethany Dombkowski.


At Lake Park: No. 12 St. Charles East versus No. 8 Huntley
Best player: Huntley keeper Jessica Galason


Breakdown: Overshadowed by rival St. Charles North, the Saints caught fire during the mid-season and are now playing their best soccer, despite dealing with some devastating injuries. The Saints stunned St. Charles North 2-1 in a sectional semifinal and shut out Conant 1-0 on its home field. The Saints must now slow down The Red Raiders and its skilled offensive attack led by sophomore sensation Taryn Jakubowski and senior midfielder Abigail Nordeen.


At Hersey: No. 3 Barrington versus No. 2 New Trier
Best player: (Tie) Barrington's Jenna Szczesny, New Trier's Maddie Mulford


Breakdown: An epic showdown. The best supersectional features one-loss New Trier and Barrington, which finished third in Class 3A last year, once again elevating its game in the state tournament. Junior star forward Jenna Szczesny, the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, scored twice in the 2-1 victory over No. 5 Buffalo Grove. Szczesny has 30 goals and 15 assists. Carrie Madden and Nicole Niro are firmly incorporated into the Fillies' attack. New Trier has lost only to top-ranked Waubonsie Valley. The Trevians have regained their swagger and have been absolutely dominant in postseason, epitomized by stunning 4-0 whitewash of previous No. 4 Loyola. In recent years, New Trier has struggled emotionally after playing Loyola in sectional final. Maddie Mulford (25 goals, 11 assists), like Szczesny, is a game-changer. Sophomore Kelly Maday is outstanding and junior forward Maggie Armstrong has been excellent in the state tournament.


At Normal: No. 1 Waubonsie Valley versus Edwardsville.

Best player: Waubonsie Valley forward Kristen Dodson


Breakdown: The hardest game to analyze, given Downstate power Edwardsville, with just one loss on the season, is hard to evaluate due to the difficulty of assessing its true strength of schedule. Then again, the boys team also came in unknown last fall and walked off with the Class 3A state title. The Tigers are led by two all-state players, junior midfielder Lilly Cobb and freshman forward Abigail Crabtree. The top-ranked Warriors are riding a 24-game unbeaten streak. Waubonsie Valley (21-1-3) has won 17 consecutive games, and captured the Naperville Invitational and the Upstate Eight crossover title over St. Charles North. Auburn-recruit Dodson has 23 goals and seven assists. Mackenzie Fuller has been superb.


The Class 2A field is also a wild card because of the number of teams outside the Sun-Times' coverage area. There could be as many as three or as few as one team representing Chicago-area programs in the Final Four.


Behind Northwestern-recruit Kim Jerantowski and keeper Kelly Fritz, Lemont is playing its third supersectional in the last four years. The Indians have the somewhat daunting task of playing Normal West on its home field. Their best players are Abby Thompson and Keely Theobold.


At Concordia, Hinsdale South (18-6-1) faces Public League contender Northside. Dropped down from Class 3A, Hinsdale South has been exceptional in the state tournament, allowing just one goal through four games. The Hornets have a nice balance of experience and gifted newcomers, like freshman forward Cali Vanderplow, who scored in the sectional final over Nazareth. Courtney Cavalli and Jessica Koziol are also players to watch.


Northside won its first ever sectional title at Amundsen last week, edging Premier rival Payton 2-1. The No. 18 Mustangs have big-game experience, having qualified for the Public League city semifinals six times in the last seven years. They have played Young twice and Lane. Sophomore Sarah Mullens, junior Bella Manobianco and senior Nora O'Brien are the best players on the Mustangs.


In the lower bracket, Chatham Glenwood and Peoria Notre Dame meet in one supersectional. At Hoffman Estates, No. 13 Lake Forest meets traditional power Rockford Boylan, playing in Class 2A for the first time since the advent of the three-class system. Lake Zurich has played New Trier, Loyola, Lake Zurich and Huntley and is not likely to be phased. Senior midfielder Lucy Edwards and junior midfielder Carly Hoke are the Scouts' most dangerous offensive players.

With just one week to play in the regular season, the state tournament looms. The seedings and brackets for the Class 3A state tournament field were recently issued.


Here's an overview of the tournament.


Downers South


Top four seeds: Lyons, Hinsdale Central, Benet, Glenbard East.
Team to beat: Lyons
Darkhorse: Downers North
Best player: Lyons' Emily Lange.


Outlook: The top three seeds (Lyons, Hinsdale Central, Benet) are clearly superior to the rest of the field. Hinsdale Central has won the last two sectional titles here. The Red Devils have struggled in their offensive attack, losing four games in the last 10 days by 1-0. Lyons is the most complete team,
featuring creative playmakers and an excellent defense and keeper in Lidia Breen.


Andrew


Top four seeds: Lincoln-Way North, Sandburg, Andrew, Lincoln-Way East
Team to beat: Sandburg
Darkhorse: Bloom
Best player: Sandburg's Emily Osoba


Outlook: Lincoln-Way North coach Mike Murphy's Phoenix secured the top seed, though defending sectional champion Sandburg holds a slight edge because of its greater history and depth of experience. Host Andrew has the home-field advantage. How good is Bloom? The Blazing Trojans, the No. 8 seed, have just one loss, but their level of competition is not at the same level.


Conant


Top four seeds: St. Charles North, Conant, Geneva, St. Charles East
Team to beat: St. Charles North
Darkhorse: Fremd
Best player: St. Charles North's Sophie Pohl


Outlook: Host and No. 2 seed Conant beat St. Charles North, but that was in March. North Stars have talent, athleticism, great individual talent and high-level experience. Conant counters with junior Leah Celarek. Geneva is also dangerous. St. Charles East played rival St. Charles North to a draw last month.


Rockford Auburn


Top four regional seeds: The four-region quadrant features respective No. 1 seeds: South Elgin, Huntley, McHenry, Harlem.
Team to beat: Huntley
Darkhorse: Cary-Grove
Best player: Huntley's Jessica Galason


Outlook: With Barrington moved out of the sectional and Rockford Boylan moving down to Class 2A, this the most wide open of the Chicago-area fields. Huntley gets the edge because of its schedule, having already played New Trier, St. Charles North, Lake Zurich and Hersey.


Libertyville


Top four seeds: Buffalo Grove, Barrington, Lake Zurich, Hersey
Team to beat: Barrington
Darkhorse: Glenbrook South
Best player: Buffalo Grove's Kelli Zickert


Outlook: With four ranked teams, including two in the top five, this stands with Naperville North as the deepest field in the state. A year after both reached the Final Four, Buffalo Grove and Barrington are now in the same sectional. Buffalo Grove defeated No. 2-seed Barrington 3-2 last month. Hersey beat Barrington and played Bison to a draw. Hersey amazingly did not allow a goal in 11 conference games. Lake Zurich dominated the North Suburban conference. With excellent sophomore Olivia Peters, Glenbrook South is the best No. 5 seed around. A key is the availability of Buffalo Grove keeper Sarah O'Connor, currently out with a concussion.

Maine South


Top four seeds: New Trier, Loyola, Evanston, Maine South
Team to beat: New Trier
Darkhorse: Young
Best player: New Trier's Maddie Mulford


Outlook: New Trier and Loyola have dominated this sectional and are poised to meet again, if the seeds hold. New Trier beat the Ramblers 1-0 at the PepsiCo Showdown. Third-seeded Evanston lost to New Trier and Loyola 1-0. Public League powers Lane and Young inexplicably were grouped in regional semifinal. Winner of that game could go on run.


Naperville North


Top four seeds: Waubonsie Valley, Plainfield North, Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley
Team to beat: Waubonsie Valley
Darkhorse: Naperville North
Best player: Plainfield North's Heather Handwork


Outlook: Quite simply, the standard for excellence. Six of the last nine winners of the large-school state championship originated from this sectional. Top-ranked Waubonsie Valley, the state's hottest team, is unbeaten in its last 20 matches. Handwork, of Plainfield North, is one of the top-rated players in the country. Behind Jenna Kentgen, Metea Valley has tied Waubonsie Valley and beaten Neuqua Valley and Naperville North. Two-time defending Class 3A state champion Naperville North is dangerous with home field advantage and more important, a healthy Abbie Boswell.

The Sun-Times published its girls soccer preview last week. Already the season is topsy-turvy, with early upsets, as teams have struggled to get consistent outdoor practice time because of the volatile weather, many schools having their spring breaks and just the nature of early season play.


For those who missed it, here is the top 20:


1. Buffalo Grove
2. Waubonsie Valley
3. Naperville North
4. Barrington
5. Neuqua Valley
6. Loyola
7. New Trier
8. Lake Forest
9. Plainfield North
10. St. Charles North


The second ten:


11. Naperville Central
12. Hinsdale Central
13. Sandburg
14. Lane
15. Lemont
16. Lyons
17. Hersey
18. Metea Valley
19. Geneva
20. Parker


Our top players list was restricted by space to just 50 players, 15 forwards, midfielders and defenders and five keepers. As one of the top five girls soccer markets in the country, many other quality teams and players were unfortunately left off. Here are some other teams to keep an eye, as well as players to watch.


Benet coach Bob Gros has gone to a new, more diversified offensive formation, and he has two elite players in Michelle Morefield and Katie Baumann.


Traditional power Conant experienced a transition year after the graduation of former Sun-Times Player of the Year Courtney Raetzman. Young players earned the necessary experience. Conant opened the year with a 2-1 victory over No. 10 St. Charles North, and is solid in all phases of the game with star senior defender Drew Wentzel, junior forward Leah Celarek and junior keeper Haley Anderson.


Lake Zurich coach Mike Castronova has nine returning starters back from a year ago. Senior midfielder Meaghan Gelinas is a star, and Ohio-recruit Kaitlyn McCurley keys the backline, with keeper Elly Daleske and defender Maggie Tuckey.


Lincoln-Way North has won four consecutive conference titles and is off to a blistering 5-0 start, capped by its 1-0 victory over Glenbard East in the championship of the Windy City Ram Classic last Saturday at Toyota Park. Brenna Stremlau scored the game-winner and keeper Bethany Dombkowski has been superb. Senior forward Lexi Cesario and sophomore forward Rachel Pappas (nine goals as a freshman) are the offensive catalysts.


Naperville North and Naperville Central have dominated the DuPage Valley, but watch out for Glenbard East and Wheaton Warrenville South. Glenbard East is 4-1 after the tight loss to Lincoln-Way North and survived a strong Fenwick team in the semifinals. Coach Kent Overbey has nine returning starters, led by senior midfielder Alex Ruffer, a Western Michigan-recruit, Megan Mrazek, and gifted sophomore forward Brittany Paganucci (who had nine goals and seven assists as a freshman). Juniors Haley Lydon and Rachel Anderson share keeping responsibilities.


At WW South, veteran coach Guy Callipari has six returning starters, keyed by one of the state's top juniors, midfielder AJ Jakuszewski (who played a prominent role on the U-18 national champion club team), sophomore forward Anna Fank and sophomore defender Tory Adomshick. Junior keeper Abby Fuster is another standout.


Deerfield in a team to watch in Class 2A, with eight returning starters and a strong supporting freshman class. Senior keeper Bailey Bradford has 16 career shutouts, and junior forward Emily Kellow (13 goals a year ago) is another standout.


Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco returns a strong nucleus from a 13-win team, led by sophomore forward Megan McEachern (15 goals, eight assists), junior midfielder Alexis Bryl (three goals, 10 assists) and junior defender Ali Grimm.


Prospect returns virtually its entire team, 10 starters, from last year's 13-win outfit. Midfielders Sammy Minasian, Markita Maggos and forwards Sarah LaCost and Emily Novak are the ones to watch. Stevenson has six starters back and three talented club players in Katy Karabetsos, Sophia Godoy and Erin Bailey.

A new month brings the start of the girls season. The IHSA formally permits the beginning of practice this week for the girls' season. Many programs are staging tryouts and launching the start of the new season.


Weather permitting, there are some dynamite games the opening week of the season, beginning in the middle of the month. Two-time defending Class 3A state champion Naperville North is scheduled to play two teams from last year's state finals, Barrington and Hinsdale Central, in the opening week of the season.


The Huskies graduated two-times All-area star Zoe Swift, who scored both goals in the Huskies' 2-1 victory over Hinsdale Central in the state championship last June at North Central. Coach Steve Goletz must also contend with the loss of his two other captains, crucial three-year starters Christa Szalach and Cora Climo.


The biggest story surrounding the Huskies' three-peat hopes is predicated on the health of star Abbie Boswell, the state's top junior. Boswell had an extraordinary sophomore campaign in scoring 27 goals and administering 10 assists for the 22-0-2 Huskies. She also had knee surgery last September.


Naperville North returns two other excellent midfielders in senior Meghan Lee and junior Claire Hilburger, tough, experienced players, and star junior keeper Fiona Baenziger, who allowed just 16 goals in 24 games last year.


Even with the graduation losses, Naperville North looks to be formidable.


Defending Class 3A third-place finisher Barrington is another team to watch. Coach Ryan Stengren must replace one of the greatest players in school history, current Marquette player Molly Pfeiffer. If Boswell is the state's best junior, the electrifying and fast forward Jenna Szczesny is right behind her. She scored 24 goals last year in leading the Fillies.


She heads a superb junior class that also features star keeper Hannah Luedtke and midfielders Megan Fox and Kelsey Muniz. Seniors Elli Ackermann and Mia Calamari are also very skilled.


The Fillies defeated MSL rival Buffalo Grove in the third-place game. It was a disappointing to an extraordinary year for the Bison, who won the Pepsi Showdown and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in more than two decades.


Astonishingly, Pat Dudle had just three seniors on his entire roster. He returns virtually his entire team, led by All Area star Kelli Zickert, who scored 31 goals and had 11 assists for the 25-win Bison last year. Her twin sister Colleen is also back, as are Allie Ingham, Jessica Kovach and Sara Busse.


Hinsdale Central coach Michael Smith proved himself one of the rising stars in his field, and the Red Devils


That's just last year's Class 3A semifinalists. Waubonsie Valley, Loyola, New Trier, Neuqua Valley, Naperville Central, Plainfield North, Lockport, Sandburg and Hersey also return loaded and dangerous players from a year ago. It looks to be a great season.


In the city, Lane has a new coach, Michelle Vale-Suarez, and a stacked lineup, led by Sofia Pavon and a great junior class headed by Natalie Wade. Payton won a Class 2A sectional title and Young is always dangerous. Defending Class 1A state runner-up Parker features the prolific and very skilled Olivia Amdur.


For soccer fans, that wait is nearly over.

Aficionados of Public League soccer, looking back on this season, have much to rejoice about.

Washington put together a magical postseason run to become the surprise and stunning Class 2A state champions, becoming the second city school in the last three years to capture a state championship (joining the now shuttered Harrison and Mather). The Patriots lost the pool play bracket in the city tournament on a tiebreaker, and used that as motivation to spring its run.

There was much else to celebrate.

Lane reached as high as No. 2 in the Chicago Sun-Times' ranking and became the first public city school to capture the prestigious Pepsi Showdown when the Indians beat highly-regarded Morton on the first Sunday in October. The Fuentes twins, seniors Jose and Sergio, proved themselves among the state's top players.

Lake View made a remarkable run in the city tournament, staging late rallies to beat Taft and Solorio in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. For the encore, the Wildcats pulled off one of the greatest shockers in the history of the city finals by beating Lane 2-1 in overtime.

It is not just about results and process. Young had a great story about senior Abreham Belay, a senior who'd never played on the team before who came out this year, was part of the rotation and became in time a leading offensive threat. The Ethiopian-born Belay is deaf, one of four hearing-impaired students who competed in a fall sport for the Dolphins.

After his team won the Pepsi Showdown title, Lane coach Andrew Ricks dedicated the victory to the wider, communal culture of the Public League, acknowledging the inherent difficulties of coaching there while also praising the commitment and work ethic of his colleagues and peers. He basically said, rightly, I believe, that for all its perceived dysfunction, the Public League is a source for a lot of good.

The soccer embodies many of those finest qualities, especially on matters of diversity and race.

In the three-class Illinois state tournament, Public League programs won five regional titles. Noble Street won in Class 1A, and Amundsen, Kennedy, Little Village and Lake View in 2A.

Public League soccer coordinator Tommy Smith summed it up perfectly: "I'm going to be meeting with the coaches and [athletic directors] and what I'm going to say is, this year was the best and worst of time for the Public League."

The negative developments of the final weeks of the season threatened to overshadow these wider accomplishments. The seriousness of the transgressions tarnish the grassroots, committed work of many who have worked to elevate the quality of play and standards of achievement to the level of the best soccer conferences, such as West Suburban Conference, the DuPage Valley and Mid-Suburban League programs.

Kennedy forfeited the Class 2A sectional championship game at Riverside-Brookfield after the IHSA, acting on information supplied by St. Joseph, verified the Crusaders used an ineligible player in a sectional semifinal victory over St. Joseph. Astoundingly, Kennedy used an ineligible player to beat a team the school previously defeated in late September.

Prosser's program is facing serious sanctions as the IHSA conducts an inquiry into the actions of a player who allegedly physically and verbally assaulted an official in the Falcons' Class 2A regional final with Amundsen on Oct. 25th. This devastating news tarnished an otherwise breakthrough year for the Falcons, who won the 1st Division North and qualified for the Public League quarterfinals. Prosser is scheduled to move up to the elite Premier division next year.

In the quarterfinals of the Public League city tournament, Mather's victory on penalty kicks over Young was voided after the Rangers were also discovered to have played an ineligible player. In the Kennedy and Mather cases, the player in question had also played simultaneously for an academy team.

The coaches of both Mather and Kennedy feigned ignorance, claiming they were unaware of the players' involvement with club soccer. Smith said he is going to be adamant about making sure coaches and athletic directors are aware of academy soccer going forward. "The academy soccer clubs are very public about who's playing for them," he said. "They have their own website, they keep stats, you can see who does what in each game."

The Public League is, admittedly, sui generis, from the Latin, meaning "of its own kind," and it has often relished its outsider or renegade reputation. The problem is the Public League, especially in matters involving the state tournament, has to interact with the rest of the world.

The postseason saw greatness and embarrassment exist side by side. Fortunately, Smith and other veteran coaches are leading the movement toward accountability and transparency for all schools. It is a welcome and necessary step.

Time waits for no one. The boys' fall soccer season is a blur. In the time it takes to get a handle on the sport, it is over. With just a little over a week left in the regular season, it is worthwhile to look at the seedings of the Class 3A state tournament, issued last week.

The small schools Class 1A tournament is the first weekend in Normal, at the Corn Crib.

The Class 2A and Class 3A finals have been shifted to Hoffman Estates after availability complications with former host school, Lincoln-Way North, in Frankfort.

Of late, the west suburban sectional winner typically was matched with the central or southern Illinois or downstate sectional winner. This year, the west suburban winner, hosted this year by Metea Valley, matches up with the Hinsdale South sectional winner.

As noted in today's paper, the Hinsdale South sectional, dubbed by some coaches "the death sectional," is headlined by four of our top-seven rated schools: top-ranked Hinsdale Central (No. 1 seed), No. 4 Morton (2), No. 6 Benet (3) and No. 7 Lyons (4).

Anything is possible, though it seems unlikely we are going to experience what happened last year when the same field was at Argo, a series of upsets in the regionals that saw Fenwick (which is now in Class 2A) stun Hinsdale Central in the sectional final.

Naperville Center, ranked No. 12 this week after its loss to Lake Park, has reached the state title game the last two years. At first glance, the Metea Valley sectional is a bit down, compared to previous editions. Naperville North, the No. 2 seed, has dropped out of the rankings for the first time this year after going 0-3-1 in its last four games.

Outside of the Redhawks, the teams worth watching here are No. 19 Batavia (3 seed) and Plainfield North (4).

The winner of Metea Valley and Hinsdale South square off in the supersectional round at Lewis University.

The south suburban sectional, this year at Andrew, matches up the weirdly arranged Joliet West winner, a mash-up of south suburban programs, Quad Cities schools and deep south and southwest programs stitched together, not by geography, linked by the dearth of Class 3A programs south of Joliet. Lockport, defending third-place finisher Sandburg, Lincoln-Way East and Stagg are the top four-seeds at Andrew.

The Andrew and Joliet West winners play at Normal for the supsectional.

The Hersey supersection binds together the winners of sectionals at Evanston and Mundelein. Seedings are a very inexact science, prone to bias, uncertainty and other factors. City power and Pepsi Showdown winner Lane is currently ranked higher by the Sun-Times (No. 2 in the new rankings) than the Evanston sectional, where the defending sectional finalist managed No. 3 seed, behind the host No. 16 Wildkits and No. 5 Wheeling. Making matters more complicated, if the seeds hold, the Indians have to face host New Trier, a No. 6 seed, on their own field.

At Mundelein, No. 8 Barrington is the top seed, followed by defending state champion Warren, No. 14 St. Viator (which just beat Evanston) and Hersey. Lake Forest, who carry a six-game win streak into its game with Lakes Thursday night, is the fifth seed. Speaking of St. Viator, coach Mike Taylor was very critical of the process where the Lions were bumped up a class (in part because larger enrollment schools received a waiver). The Lions go from being a favorite in Class 2A to facing a daunting bracket to get out of the sectional.

At the top of the bracket, the Bartlett supersectional pits the winner of Schaumburg and Huntley sectionals. At Schaumburg, top-seed and No. 3 St. Charles East is the clear favorite there, followed by No. 11 Lake Park and a dangerous Elk Grove team. Otherwise, it is a top-heavy field. Like Joliet West, Huntley is a four regional quadrant, the most stunning and questionable development is undefeated No. 10 Dundee-Crown earning a No. 3 regional seed (the equivalent of a 9-12 sectional seed) at Streamwood. Larkin, a team hovering at .500, is the No. 2 seed there.

The Bartlett and Hersey supersectional qualifiers meet in the first state semifinal on Nov. 8th. The Lewis and Normal winners face off in the second semifinal.