Every sport has people that are considered groundbreakers -- passionate about the cause and willing to help with the advancement of their particular profession.
High school girls lacrosse is no different. One of those particular groundbreakers/advocates of the advancement of the sport in the state of Illinois has been Neuqua Valley coach Lauren Rippy.
Rippy, who played lacrosse at Texas A&M, is in her seventh year with the varsity program, which she started after a junior varsity team was established tow years prior.
Rippy's introduction into the sport was a bit nontraditional.
"I played basketball in Highland Park, Texas," she said. "In college they were having lacrosse tryouts. One of my roommate's friends said I should go. I went out for it. I couldn't catch on the first day. I ended up scoring a lot. I was put on attack from there and I learned the rest. I never liked basketball. I just did it for the team atmosphere. I love every aspect of lacrosse, from the field to the sticks to being outside. It's a completely different game."
Rippy, a physical education teacher at Bolingbrook High School, moved up to the Chicago area after college and coached at Lane Tech.
"That was my first coaching job," she said. "That's where I fell in love with that aspect of the game."
After three years at Lane Tech she moved on to be an assistant coach at state power Loyola Academy.
She ended up going back to college and eventually returned to the Chicago area, where she hooked up with the Neuqua Valley program.
Rippy also plays a key part in the Players Lacrosse club out of Naperville.
"I do the club program with the U19 squad and help with their academy and educating officials that ref the sport," she said. "It's a big grassroots movement."
Rippy is impressed with how the sport has grown in the Chicago area in the time she has been here.
"When I started at Lane Tech there was maybe eight varsity schools and now we have 40," she said. "It keeps growing. You are seeing schools accept it and you are seeing the number of players that want to play it grow. It's amazing. Metea Valley and St. Francis just joined our conference. Everything keeps growing."
Rippy feels the sport's growth can be attributed in part to the newness of the sport.
"A big part of it is girls finding their niche," she said. "Maybe girls have tried basketball or cheerleading and softball, but are looking for something to call their own. They see lacrosse and see that it's pretty cool. They find a circle of friends and they establish themselves in the sport where in other sports they might get lost."
But Rippy stresses the key to continued growth is to make sure all the bases are covered.
"It takes time to grow a sport," she said. "It takes time to develop players and coaches and officials. You can't grow organically unless every level is in place to support the sport."
Rippy noted the path to getting IHSA-sanctioned is getting closer to its destination. Rippy said 42 schools have teams that are playing, including downstate O'Fallon. Rippy added 10 percent of the state school membership is needed to gain sanctioning. However, she noted that the boys' are extremely close to getting 60 teams, which would trigger IHSA sanctioning. Rippy added that if the boys' get sanctioned with 60, the girls' will be allowed to go in on the coattails of the boys and also earn IHSA sanctioning.
"We're still right on the cusp of breaking through," Rippy said. "It's really close."
Playoff fever today: Sectional finals are on tap this afternoon and early evening throughout the Chicago suburbs.
At Libertyville, the host Wildcats will face Lake Zurich at 6 p.m. At Schaumburg, Palatine and Barrington square off at 6 p.m., while Evanston will host a doozy between New Trier and Loyola Academy at 6:30 p.m.
At Highland Park, Lake Forest and Glenbrook South go on at 5 p.m. Host Neuqua Valley and Montini will play at 5 p.m. O'Fallon and Hinsdale Central play at 5:30 p.m. at Hinsdale Central. Oak Park-River Forest and Lyons Township play at 5:30 p.m. at Oak Park-River Forest, while Mother McAuley and St. Ignatius will face each other at 5 p.m. at St. Ignatius.
These pairings guarantee at least three Herald City teams will play in supersectionals on Wednesday.
That Wednesday schedule features the Schaumburg and Libertyville winners playing at Fremd at 5:30 p.m. The Evanston and Highland Park winners play at 5 p.m. at Loyola's Glenview campus. The Neuqua Valley and Hinsdale Central winners play at 6 p.m. at Hinsdale Central. The Oak Park and St. Ignatius winners play at 5 p.m. at St. Ignatius.
The supersectional winners head to the state semifinals Wednesday, June 1 at Hinsdale Central at 5 and 6:30 p.m. The third-place and state-championship games will be held Friday, June 3 at Northwestern University in Evanston.
The lowest sectional seeds remaining in the tournament are third seeds. All of the No. 1 sectional seeds are still in the field, as are five of the No. 2 seeds (Palatine, O'Fallon and Mother McAuley are No. 3 seeds still alive).
Defensive standout: We've written previously about the blue-collar attitude of the Wheaton United defense. One of the key contributors on the defensive end is senior defender-midfielder Colleen Savell.
"I like being able to stop the ball and get it back up to the offense," she said. "I like defense a lot more. Offense and defense will win games, but you need defense to stop the other team from getting great shots. You need to get that ball back up to the offense."
Savell said Wheaton has thrived from using a zone defense this year.
"Our defense has grown up a lot and it's at a point now where we work really well together," she said.
Savell, who will continue her education at Illinois and plans on playing club there, added it doesn't hurt to have a large chunk of veteran players on the roster.
"We have a very strong senior class this year," she said. "We've been working at this since freshman year. Freshman year we were 2-14 and this year we're 15-5 (through early last week). We all have the drive to make this year our year. It's something we've been working on since last year."
More defense: Libertyville senior Katie Piazzi plays a key part in the team's defensive set up out of her low defender's position.
"I mostly guard the net for rolls on the crease and for shots where they take it to goal," she said. "I'm not like the captain of the defense, but I am kind of the coordinator back there. I tell everybody where to go and keep an eye on everything with the defense."
Piazzi has to be on her toes at all times.
"I'm the last line of defense before the goalie," she said. "If there is a fast break from the other team, I am the one that has to stop her before she gets to our goalie."
Piazzi takes it as a personal challenge when there is a potential 1-on-1 situation.
"I want to see if I can take her on or if she is going to get past me," she said. "It's a challenge. The key for me is reading the offense as a whole to see where the pass is going next and where specific players are. It's all about anticipating what is to come."
Piazzi, who is planning on majoring in pre-med at the University of Illinois, has been thrilled with how the Libertyville season has unfolded, especially after the team graduated so many players from last year's team.
"We have a very young team, she said. "I'm very proud of the year we've had. Everybody has given it their all. We're so much better now. We've overcome what people said about us losing 10 or 11 seniors."
Piazzi said a particular fond memory was the team's recent 11-9 loss to powerful Lake Forest on senior night.
"We usually lose to them by about five," she said. "This is the closest we have every come."
Palatine update: The Pirates advanced to the sectional final with a 13-12 win over St. Charles at Schaumburg recently. It was Palatine's first-ever playoff win and it avenged an earlier loss to St. Charles.
All-conference midfielder Rose Silveira had 6 goals in the first half for Palatine, while Marquette-bound Lauren Radtke had 3 goals. Palatine led 11-6 at halftime.
St. Charles trimmed the lead to 11-10 with 15 minutes to play. Radtke added a goal The score was tied 12-12 late when Palatine goalie Veronika Metanova came up with two key saves after St. Charles had won the draw.
Palatine then came back down the field and Radtke attacked the crease from X and spun back to her left and lobbed the ball over the goalie's head to give Palatine a 13-12 lead. Palatine controlled the last draw and ran out the last 2 minutes on the clock to win the game.
Silveira had 6 goals and 1 interception, while Radtke finished with 5 goals and 2 interceptions. Metanova made 16 saves.
The win moved Palatine to 14-5 overall. The Pirates finished 4-2 in conference play behind Barrington.
Palatine and Barrington will square off for the Schaumburg sectional title today.
"We lost to the 10-7 about a month ago," Palatine coach Leslie Schock said. "We need to limit our turnovers, control the tempo of the game and communicate defensively."
Silveira was leading the team with 70 goals (3.7 per game), 2.4 draw controls per game and 2 interceptions per game.
Radtke had 49 goals and was averaging 3.0 draw controls per game. Metanova had 190 saves in 16 games.
"Veronika has a great save percentage," Schock said.
Silveira had 27 goals in the team's last 4 games.
St. Charles update: The tough 13-12 loss to Palatine in the Schaumburg sectional left St. Charles co-op at 8-4 on the season. The team ended up in third place in the DuPage Upstate Eight Conference with a 3-4 mark.
Coach Peter Bogle was thrilled with how his team responded after trailing 11-6 at halftime to Palatine.
"The defense and offense finally kicked into gear," St. Charles coach Peter Bogle said.
St. Charles ran off 6 unanswered goals to take a 12-11 lead with 3 minutes to play.
Senior captain Meghan Brody had 6 goals and 8 draw controls in the game, while fellow senior captain Katie Bogle had 3 goals, 2 assists and 5 draw controls. Sophomores Emma MacNeille and Maddie Smith also scored.
Peter Bogle lauded the play of his defense, which allowed only 4 shots in the second half compared with 15 in the first half.
"The defense, anchored by senior captain Emily Thornton, played the best defense of the year in the second half," he said. "This was one of those games that on the score and stat sheet, we dominated controlling over 65 percent of the draws and shutting down Palatine's offense in the second half. This was a tough loss because our team was just starting to play their best lacrosse of the season and just at the right time."
Bogle felt confident his team, with the particular style of play it employs, would make a deep run in the playoffs and advance farther than any other St. Charles team had in the past.
"It's a shame," he said.
Through late last week, Bogle was ranked first in the state in assists with 28. She also had 46 draw controls and 17 goals--both in the top 12 in the state. Brady was leading the state in goals with 53 and had 40 draw controls and 13 assists. Samantha Link had 24 goals and 3 assists, while MacNeille had 15 goals.
Brady and Bogle will continue their careers in college. Brady will play at Robert Morris, while Bogle is headed to Colorado State.
Glenbard West update: Glenbard West's extremely successful season came to a close with a 16-7 loss to Neuqua Valey. Coach Bob Regan noted the Neuqua Valley sectional features four of the top teams in the state in Neuqua, Montini, Wheaton United and Glenbard West.
Naperville Central update: The playoff battle between Naperville Central and Naperville North came down to the wire--as any town battle should. Naperville North prevailed 6-5 in overtime.
Naperville North won the draw to open overtime and scored a goal to go up 6-5 after the first extra session. North won the draw in the second overtime, but Central forced a turnover and with 30 seconds left transitioned the ball into the attacking zone. Central took two shots, the first missed the net and was backed up and the last shot was saved with 4 seconds left by North goalie Natalie Weimer.
North took a 2-0 lead early in the game before Central's Aleks Cogdill scored to make it 2-1. North answered to make it 3-1, but Central came right back with goals from Sam Skodi and Allison Hinze to make it 3-3 at halftime. North scored after halftime, but Central used two goals from Alina Zibutis to go up 5-4 with 8 minutes to play.
After North forced a turnover, it moved the ball up the field and scored with 1:26 left in regulation. This was the second time this season the two teams went into overtime at 5-5.
Central goalie Sarah Osier stopped 19 of 25 shots in goal.
"Sarah played great in net," Central coach Adam Washington said.
Nicole Pinnella came back from injury and provided a boost to Central by forcing 5 turnovers and taking 5 charges.
"This was a great game to be part of even though we lost," Washington said.
Central finished the year 2-13 and 1-6 in conference play.
"We showed some great improvement the last week of the season," Washington stated. "It seemed we were about 2 months late putting it all together. The good news is that while we graduate 7 seniors, we have some great players returning next year. We'll have a completely overhauled attack and our midfield will remain intact. The toughest pieces to replace will be Katie Scholin, Sarah Schumacher and Sarah Osier."
Alex Novak led Central in scoring this year with 10 goals and 3 assists. Kim Obergfell had 6 goals and 2 assists.
Liz Goeden notched her first two varsity goals in a recent game against St. Charles, while Zibutis tallied 4 goals in the final 2 games of the season.
Warren update: Warren dropped a playoff game to Vernon Hills to finish the year 5-13 overall. Aubri Hazen was named to the all-conference first team, while Arika Stovall was a second-team all-conference choice. Valerie Rapp was named to the league sportsmanship team.
Angharad Urch, Hazen and Stovall were the team's leading scorers, while Nicole Suchsland, Christina Parmar and Jenna Melloy also were key contributors.
Libertyville update: Libertyville edged Vernon Hills, 7-6 in sectional semifinal action. Olivia Mayer had 3 goals and 8 ground balls.
"Olivia kept the team motivated and pushing hard all the way to the last second," Libertyville coach Dana Brady said.
The Wildcats finished the regular season 9-6-1. Captain Hope Nishimoto led the way with 52 goals and 8 assists. Meghann Stelzner had 33 goals and 3 assists. Lauren Muender had 8 goals and 7 assists.
"Lauren has a knack for having vision behind the goal to see a good cut to help her teammate score," Libertyville coach Dana Brady said.
Goalie Molly Toohey went over the 100-save barrier this season.
"She kept the number of goals scored against us low," Brady said.
Mary Kate Lee led the team with 8 interceptions, while Lauren Pacholski had over 40 ground balls. Piazzi, a captain, was also a stalwart on defense.
"Katie has kept the defense intense, demonstrating excellent positioning on the 8-meter and holding space, especially on the low corners, preventing several attackers from rolling the crease," Brady said.
Libertyville faces Lake Zurich for a sectional title today. Libertyville downed Lake Zurich 14-9 earlier this season.
"This does not mean our win is in the bag," Brady said. "I watched Lake Zurich play Stevenson and examined their strengths. If we want to repeat history and beat them a second time, we will have to work on breaking down their passing lanes in the midfield and thinking one step ahead of the goalie."
In a recent 11-7 win over Deerfield, Nicki Panega turned in a season-best performance with 4 goals and 5 ground balls.
"She was the biggest contributor, by far, in our last regular season game," Brady said.
Vernon Hills update: While Vernon Hills lost 7-6 to Libertyville in sectional action, it was a much different result than the last time the two team's played. Libertyville scored a 14-2 win in that game.
Cougars' coach Bob Thompson attributes some of that turnaround to the emergence of goalie Erin Steele.
"When we lost to them, she was not playing goal," Thompson said. "This young lady brought our team up so much by playing goal that I cannot begin to explain. She played in our last game of the regular season against Barrington, which was her first full game of the season. She did a fantastic job."
Against Barrington, Steele played 37 minutes and stopped 15 shots (11 goals against). She played 50 minutes against Warren and stopped 7 shots and let in 11 goals. Against Libertyville, she played 50 minutes and made 13 saves, while allowing only 7 goals. During that 3-game stretch, she had a goals-against average of 12.67 and a save percentage of 50 percent.
After defeating Warren, 18-11, in the opening round of the sectional, the Cougars faced Libertyville and dropped the aforementioned 7-6 contest.
Libertyville led 6-3 and 7-4 at various junctures of the game.
Goals by Jihee Choi and Christie Currie got Vernon Hills to within a single goal with less than 2 minutes remaining.
Steele played a key role with several tough saves in the last 10 minutes.
Vernon Hills had the ball in the attack for the last 30 seconds, but Libertyville was able to withstand the attacks of Sarah Lehman, Currie, Lauren Hernandez and Choi.
"We proved to them that we are a team to contend with and that even though we lost the game, we gave them a fight," Thompson said.