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Patrick Z. McGavin: March 2012 Archives

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.

For those who missed the Sun-Times soccer preview, here's a quick recap:

Naperville North, last year's Class 3A state runner-up, is the frontrunner, followed by: 2. Neuqua Valley. 3. Conant. 4. New Trier. 5. Naperville Central. 6. Loyola. 7. York. 8. Plainfield North. 9. Fremd. 10. Waubonsie Valley.

Schaumburg: Sophomore forward Alexa Ben (17 goals, seven assists last year) keys a talented and explosive offense. The Saxons are off to a strong 6-0 start after a 2-1 overtime win over Hersey. Other players to watch are senior midfielders Kelsey Steenstrup, Teagan Eberle and Becky Sneddon and junior forward Jenna Eaker. The Saxons have two dynamite keepers in senior Brooke Schocker and junior Tressa Palcheck.

Elk Grove: The Grens are also flying high and off to a terrific start, not having surrendered a goal in starting the year 4-0. Coach Dan Klaus has two superstars in senior forward Kelli Hubly and senior defender Katie Naughton, a Notre Dame recruit. Sophomore forward Nikki Zaino is also one to watch.

(As a side note: the Mid-Suburban League, or MSL, put two teams, Conant and Fremd, in the Class 3A state finals last year. The league appears even deeper this year.)

Metea Valley: The third-year program returns all 18 players from last year's team that showed tremendous promise. Junior keeper Megan Geldernick is a star; Holly Krol and Jenna Kentgen are the playmakers to watch.

St. Charles North: "I think we have an excellent balance of strength both offensively and defensively," coach Ruth Vostal said. Junior midfielder Alex Gage heads a talented team, supported by senior forward Lauren Koehl and sophomore midfielder Alyssa Brandt.

Lyons: The Lions return a strong nucleus from a 20-5-1 team that finished second in the Pepsi Challenge. Senior keeper Maggie Orlowski is a star, and senior midfielder Juliet Lusson and midfielder/defender Sarah Mazur are the ones to watch in the open field.

Lockport: The Porters have had a bit of a rough start to the year, beginning 1-2, because star forward Lexi Cozzi has been out with an injury. Junior forward Ally Brehm, junior defender Brynn Feeley and junior defender Leah Plescia are the other players to watch.

Downers South: After the team's 2-0 win over the Porters Thursday night, coach Barry Jacobson has 474 career victories. The team suffered a huge blow when sophomore Stephanie Zurales elected to play club this year. Sarrah Ludwig is a physical, dominating player, backed by Jessica Bronke and Flo Beshiri.

Barrington: The Fillies opened with tough losses against the area's two best teams, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley. Junior forward Molly Pfeiffer is electrifying in the open field. Two sophomore forwards, Elli Ackermann and Mia Calamari, have also impressed in the early going. Senior defender Kathryn Avedon keys the backline.

Sandburg: The Eagles took it on the chin against top-ten Plainfield North Saturday. The Eagles were missing three starters. With a centerpiece in junior midfielder Morgan Manzke, the Eagles are certain to hit their stride, especially as their health recovers.

Homewood-Flossmoor: The Vikings were the surprise of the south suburbs last year. Senior midfielder Ali Farkos returns, bolstered by a blend of returning and talented newcomers.

This list is fluid and ever-changing. The new rankings are out in Monday's newspaper. Despite the balmy weather, it's still only March. No team ever won a state title this early.

The Sun-Times soccer preview is set to be unveiled in Wednesday's print edition.

The preview will have a feature on the No. 1 team, a breakdown of the top ten teams and a list of the top 50 players. Please check back in this space because we will have additional information about the teams that are right there, basically the teams listed 11-20 in the pecking order.

Followers of Chicago high school soccer, both boys and girls, will certainly notice a certain symmetry and interesting parallels between the boys and girls teams.

On Wednesday night, North Central College, in Naperville, significantly the host site of the girls' state championships, is hosting a blockbuster doubleheader featuring teams that are certain to appear in the soccer preview and also figure prominently throughout the season.

The headline game is a rematch of last year's stunning sectional final involving defending Class 3A runner-up Naperville North and Neuqua Valley. The Huskies prevailed 1-0 last year, snapping the nationally-rated Neuqua's 24-0 start. The game will also mark the debut of first-year Naperville North coach Steve Goletz.

Goletz inherits a loaded line up, seven returning starters led by Zoe Swift, a junior who was third-team all-area last year, and two all-conference players, Hunter Drendel and Christa Szalach. The other interesting "return," is Jen Korn, the elite Northwestern-recruit who has been playing elite level club the last two years.

Neuqua Valley coach Joe Moreau lost some key members from last year's squad. He retains a solid nucleus led by the incomparable Zoey Goralski, the junior who's already committed to UCLA. He also has two superb junior playmakers in Gianna Dal Pozzo and Hope D'Addario.

The game is expected to start around 7:30 p.m. The college is located at 30 N. Brainard St.

The preliminary game is no less involving, Waubonsie Valley (whom we got to see in their first game this week against Lane) against a clearly very good Naperville Central team. In the first week of the new season, the Redhawks already have a great win, Saturday's 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Plainfield North.

Senior midfielder Meredith McEniff, an Iowa recruit, scored both goals for the Redhawks. For the Warriors to solve Naperville Central, they have to contend with star Central keeper Jill D'Amico. Coach Ed Watson really likes his team's offensive capabilities, keyed by McEniff and two emerging stars, sophomore Veronica Ellis and Katherine Short.

Plainfield North fell short against Naperville Central, but the Tigers are a legitimate top-ten team. Behind returning all-area performer Callie O'Donnell, Plainfield North merited the second-seed in the Pepsi Showdown, the prestigious annual soccer tournament starting April 10.

The other top seeds, in order: Metea Valley, Plainfield North, Elk Grove, Loyola, New Trier, Lake Forest, York and Lockport.

As we said in our previous post, the start of the girls' soccer season is Monday.

City soccer fans are blessed by a rare (reportedly the first ever) visit by prominent power Waubonsie Valley. Coached by Julie Bergstrom, the Warriors have won three of the last five state championships, including back-to-back Class AA titles in 2007 and 2008 where they recorded a stunning cumulative mark of 56-0-2. Two years ago, they won the inaugural Class 3A state title.

The Warriors are visiting the North Side to meet two-time defending city champion Lane. Indians' coach Mike Wasielewski wrote to say, talking about the showdown, "This will be another test to see if a city school can contend with a top suburban program."

The Indians have won a CPS record five city titles. The Indians have won 26 consecutive games against Public League competition. Waubonsie Valley marks a wholly different level of competition. In an e-mail message, Bergstrom is cannily withholding much about this year's team. She admits to having an elite talent in junior defender Jenna Romano. She was second-team all-area last year. The Warriors' other top star is junior defender Rachele Armand.

Start time is 5 p.m., at Lane Stadium, at Western Avenue and Addison.

A couple of other news and notes as a teaser to the start of the year.

Traditional power New Trier also has quite a welcome addition. Junior midfielder Jessica Weaver is a transfer from Hersey (Penn.). New Trier coach Jim Burnside said as a freshman Weaver played on a state championship team. He says she could be one of the team's top two players. A rival coach calls her "potentially New Trier's best."

The excitement is palpable, a sure suggestion that for many, the season cannot start quickly enough.

The same coach calls Neuqua Valley junior forward Zoey Goralski, a UCLA-commit who was an NSCAA All-American, "the best player in Illinois." Goralski was the lone sophomore named to last year's Sun-Times' all-area team. She forms a potentially devastating scoring tandem with junior forward Gianna Dal Pozzo.

The other returning first-team all area players are: Conant senior midfielder Courtney Raetzman, a Kentucky recruit who registered 23 goals and 16 assists last year; and Plainfield North senior forward Callie O'Donnell, a UW-Milwaukee recruit who's coming off a breakthrough junior year where she scored 24 goals and added 20 assists for the 17-3-1 Tigers.

It seems as though it were just yesterday that Morton and Mather captured the two large state championships in boys' soccer.

We'll have more soccer signings and announcements forthcoming. The bigger news is the imminent start of the girls' season. Practice formally started last Monday. Like many niche sports, the top teams are pretty consistent and tend to congregate in specific geographic areas. In Chicago, much like the boys' programs, it's the western suburbs and North Shore.

We'll be publishing, soon, in the print edition of the paper and yourseason.com a preseason top ten, a list of ten other schools to watch and a list of the top fifty players,

Despite the best intentions, sport is rarely if ever very democratic. Not every school has access to the same talent, facilities and coaching. Because of the nature of the game, the rules and the style of play, the random and unpredictable plays a huge factor. Neuqua Valley was nationally rated and undefeated last year until the 3A sectional final, where they lost 1-0 against Naperville North.

The North boys' team was nationally rated and cruising last fall until they lost, to rival Naperville Central, 1-0, in a sectional final. It's a cruel sport, boys and girls' coaches like to say. It's all true.

Nobody ever won a state title in early March. Because of the notoriously volatile spring weather patterns, early season schedules are best written in pencil. Soccer is not quite as touched by this as baseball or softball. The season starts before boys basketball is even finished.

In studying some early season match ups, I was struck, in a very positive way, how the best coaches look for early showdowns as a true indicator of their early season value and worth. Neuqua Valley opens with traditional power Barrington March 17 in advance of a March 21 rematch with Naperville North at North Central College. York and Lyons, who played a memorable 2-1 sectional title game last year in favor of the Dukes, also face each other in the first month of the season.

As a newcomer, I am ready to catch the excitement.

More signings: As promised, a few more updates on where some of the best players from the 2012 class are going to continue their playing careers. Two key members of Warren's group that finished fourth last year in Class 3A are going to remain teammates. Keeper Brady Walsh and defender Patrick Schultz are both going to Marquette. Walsh was a third-team member of the all-area squad.

According to Crete-Monee coach Julian Lagunas, the Warriors' Carlos Posada, the state's all-time career goal scorer, is still mulling his options. Posada is considering either going to a junior college for two years in an effort to secure a Division l scholarship or walk on at Eastern Illinois.

Speaking of Morton and Mather: Mike Caruso, coach at Morton, reports, as expected, Joel Salmeron, who scored the game-winning goal against Naperville Central in the 3A state final, is headed to UIC. His two teammates, both members of the Sun-Times' all-area teams, remain undecided. Midfielder Jesus Morales and forward Alonso Torres are weighing their options.

Two stars of Libertyville's 2010 3A runner-up team, Marshall Hollingsworth and Joey Ruppert, have settled on Wheaton College and SIU-Edwardsville, respectively.

Finally, Branko Cvijovic, coach of city and state champion Mather, says the team's two stars, Qudus Lawal and Steven Younus, are both likely to go the junior college route.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Patrick Z. McGavin in March 2012.

Patrick Z. McGavin: February 2012 is the previous archive.

Patrick Z. McGavin: April 2012 is the next archive.

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