A year ago this time, Naperville North survived St. Charles North 1-0 in four overtimes to complete its majestic 24-1-2 run in capturing the Class 3A state title. Immediately the question turned to whether the Huskies could repeat.
Flash forward a year, and the Huskies did just that, using two Zoe Swift goals to hold off Hinsdale Central 2-1 as Naperville North became the first large-school program since Waubonsie Valley to repeat.
Comparisons are inevitable, and naturally the question becomes which was the better team. Last year's team was better defensively. They had an All-American in Jen Korn (Northwestern) and a rising star in freshman Kayla Sharples. Korn graduated and Sharples elected to play club.
This year's edition was probably more explosive offensively. Even with Swift missing eight games with the ankle injury, causing her goal production to decline to 17 from 25, Naperville North had a lethal scoring attack with sophomore star Abbie Boswell.
Boswell finished the year with 28 goals and 11 assists; even with the time missed, Swift ended up with 17 goals and nine assists. The team's other double-figure scorer was senior midfielder Christa Szalach, who had 15 goals. Cora Climo, the co-captain with Szalach, had seven goals and 16 assists.
Naperville North's path was arduous. The Huskies beat Neuqua Valley twice (including a sectional semifinal), Naperville Central twice in five days, Buffalo Grove, Waubonsie Valley, Lockport and Geneva. The defense was not as smothering as a year ago. Still, the Huskies still recorded 12 shutouts, including a state semifinal over a powerful Buffalo Grove team.
Give a slight edge to this year's team.
Allow the Huskies their time to celebrate, but still, it is never too early to talk about next year.
Sure, Swift, Climo and Szalach and the crucial team player Emily Bromagen are all graduating. The sophomore nucleus of Boswell, keeper Fiona Baenziger, midfielder Claire Hilburger (who must recover from a serious knee injury) and midfielder Allison Svoboda to go with juniors Meghan Lee, Sarah Feder and Abby Mangefrida is a potent lineup. If Sharples returns to the high school team, the Huskies could be as good as ever.
The other Final Four teams look very imposing. If Naperville North is not the preseason No. 1 next year, Buffalo Grove is the likely inheritor of the crown. The Bison had a disappointing end to a magnificent season when they lost consecutive 2-0 games to Naperville North and MSL rival Barrington to finish fourth.
"We're going to miss our seniors, but we got the seasoning this year," coach Pat Dudle said after the Barrington loss. Junior midfielder Kelli Zickert, first-team all-area, is one of the best players in the state. Her twin sister Colleen Zickert (eight goals, nine assists) joins a gifted supporting cast of sophomore midfielder Jessica Kovach, junior midfielder Skylar Groth (eight goals, five assists), junior forward Allie Ingham (15 goals, eight assists) and sophomore forward Sara Busse (seven goals, 10 assists). Sophomore keeper Sarah O'Connor, a converted position player, was often spectacular in her first year in the net.
Third-place finisher Barrington must make up for a tremendous loss in the emotional and team leader, star senior Molly Pfeiffer (Marquette). The Fillies just showcased their next great star in sophomore forward Jenna Szczesny, who scored 25 goals and added eight assists. The other key Barrington players are junior midfielder Mia Calamari (six goals, 12 assists), sophomore midfielder Kelsey Muniz (five goals, six assists), sophomore midfielder Annalise Avers (seven goals), junior forward Ellie Ackermann (five goals) and sophomore midfielder Megan Fox. Sophomore keeper Hannah Luedtke, a third-team all-area selection, recorded 18 shutouts for the Fillies.
On paper, state runner-up Hinsdale Central appears the hardest hit. The Red Devils have their ace in the hole in the emergence of elite coach Michael Smith, who directed Hinsdale Central to a state title appearance in just his second year. "He's very composed," star senior Jenn Jarmy said, "and that gives us a lot of confidence in how we play." Junior Alison Cerny, who had the game-winner in the semifinal over Barrington, leads the list of returning players; others to watch for next year are junior Christa Kuhlman, sophomore midfielder Danielle Shayani, sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Livingston, junior midfielder Megan Schick (who scored in the state title game) and junior midfielder Lily Chetosky. Junior keeper Riley Glenn was also sensational throughout the year for the Red Devils.
The other teams to watch in 2014 are: Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, Loyola, New Trier, Lockport and Naperville Central.
In Class 2A, state runner-up Prairie Ridge reloads behind sophomore forward Larissa Dooley, junior forward Erin Ginsberg and junior midfielder Erica Walsh. Fenwick, its best state finish ever third place finish, suffered serious graduation losses. Still, the Friars have some standout younger players in junior forward Caroline Murphy, junior forward Nora Madden and freshman midfielder Colette Jaslowski. Fourth-place finisher Lemont returns its three top scorers in star junior midfielder Kim Jerantowski, sophomore forward Aleksandra Mihailovic and sophomore midfielder Savannah Rhodes.