Chicago Sun-Times
By Patrick Z. McGavin

Some early surprises

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It is always dangerous to take too much from the first three weeks of the season, where the sample size is fairly small. On the one hand, the season has progressed as expected. Naperville North has not allowed a goal in its first four games and they already own the year's most impressive victory, a 2-0 shutout of Neuqua Valley.

The power schools in the DuPage Valley, Upstate Eight Valley, the two divisions of the Mid-Suburban League and New Trier and Loyola in the North Shore have been as good or even better than advertised. The aforementioned Naperville North and No. 4 Naperville Central are the elite programs of the DVC. Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley are state championship-quality teams in the Upstate Eight Valley. St. Charles North appears the class of the Upstate Eight River.

At the same time, some other schools, like Lincoln-Way North and Nazareth (7-0 to start the season), have certainly caught our attention.

The MSL West is ridiculously loaded: No. 3 Conant and Fremd were third and fourth in Class 4A tournament last year. Schaumburg has started the year 6-0 and cracked our rankings, currently resting at No. 7. Barrington is also talented and deep. In the East, Elk Grove began the year as the favorite.

Watch out for Buffalo Grove. The Bison have three electrifying playmakers who have the ability to take over games offensively. The twins Kelli and Colleen Zickert and Carolynn Wieland are off to smoldering starts. Keeper Katie Okamoto has also been stellar.

Also on the lookout are schools with young, enthusiastic first-year coaches, like Rosary's Kristy Kane. Taking over a team that went 11-11-3 a year ago, Kane's youth-driven though evidently talented team is on fire. Rosary is 6-0, winning each game by shutout. Quincy Kellett, a freshman forward, has ignited the offense; her game-winner Saturday was the difference in the Royals' 1-0 victory over Oswego East. Lauren Grasca, a sophomore, posted 13 saves. Kane is also lauding another freshman, sweeper/defender Maria Witte. Kane also says watch out for senior sweeper Courtney Bila and senior midfielder Sam Duarte.

At Resurrection, coach Guy Anderson's teams is also off to a smashing start, winning its first five games. The Bandits beast Regina 1-0 Thursday on Shannon Byrne's goal off an assist by Hannah Witczak. Rachel Cunningham has also had a strong start, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Queen of Peace. Going forward, the real question is whether Bandits are able to sustain the success against higher level GCAC Red competition such as Loyola or St. Ignatius.

Gone fishing: Public League schools are on spring break this week, intensifying anticipation for some big conference games in the coming weeks. It was commonly thought two-time city champion Lane and Young were the teams to beat. Lane has an elite player in sophomore forward Jasmin Carrera, who already has a four-goal game this year.

Lane is likely to benefit from a brutal early schedule that opened with showdowns against top 10 programs Waubonsie Valley and Plainfield North.

Young is also taking on all comers, having played in consecutive days West Suburban powers Morton and Hinsdale Central. The Dolphins tied Morton 1-1. On Saturday, Young beat Hinsdale Central 1-0 on Maggie Kindra's goal. Young has the ultimate weapon, star keeper Rachel Hobart. She had 13 saves against the Red Devils, the second time in the last week she has posted those kind of staggering numbers.

The Public League team to beat apparently is Payton. The Grizzlies boast an elite talent in senior forward Corinne Harris. The Michigan-recruit is listed as the 105th-rated senior in ESPN's high school soccer rankings. She scored three goals in the team's 5-0 win over U-High. Payton is off to a 4-0-2 start. The soccer gods have responded in kind. Payton travels to Lane Stadium for a showdown with the Indians on April 11.

We'll have more on Harris, Payton and the Indians next week. Until then, be there or be square.

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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Z. McGavin published on March 31, 2012 8:00 PM.

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