Top teams: Downers Grove South, Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley.
Top players: Amanda Alberts (Naperville Central, Sr., D), Rachele Armand (Waubonsie Valley, Sr., D), Bryce Banuelos (York, Sr., MF), Jessie Bejna (Montini, Sr., D), Abbie Boswell (Naperville North, So., F), Kristen Brots (Waubonsie Valley, Jr., MF), Taylor Bucaro (St. Francis, Sr., MF), Cora Climo (Naperville North, Sr., MF), Hope D'Addario (Neuqua Valley, Sr., D), Gianna Dal Pozzo (Neuqua Valley, Sr., MF), Anne Denz (Wheaton North, Sr., MF), Brittany Dietz (Downers Grove South, Sr., MF), Jenna DiTusa (St. Francis, Sr., GK), Kristen Dodson (Waubonsie Valley, Jr., F), Veronia Ellis (Naperville Central, Sr., MF), Veronica Fairbairn (Glenbard East, Sr., GK), Megan Geldernick (Metea Valley, Sr., GK), Linnae Giuliano (Wheaton North, Sr., D), Natalie Jensen (Wheaton Warrenville South, Jr., D), Abby Joyce (Naperville Central, Jr., F), Amanda Kaiser (Benet, Sr., MF), Morgan Kemerling (Waubonsie Valley, So., MF), Jenna Kentgen (Metea Valley, Jr., F), Jessica Kiely (Wheaton North, Sr., GK), Kelly Langlas (Wheaton Warrenville South, Sr., D), Andie Lazzerini (West Chicago, Sr., F), Megan Lindbert (Lake Park, Sr., MF/F), Alli Manske (Wheaton Academy, Sr., MF), Meredith Matson (Wheaton Academy, Sr., D), Casey May (Hinsdale Central, Sr., F), Dana Miller (Wheaton Warrenville South, Sr., MF), Jessica Mutters (Hinsdale South, Sr., D), Meaghan O'Hara (Benet, Sr., MF), Grace Orndorff (Naperville Central, Jr., MF), Lexi Palafas (Wheaton North, So., F), Danielle Pitaro (Glenbard South, Sr., MF), Ashley Pogue (Glenbard North, Jr., F), Jenna Romano (Waubonsie Valley, Sr., MF), Alex Ruffer (Glenbard East, Jr., MF), Zoe Swift (Naperville North, Sr., F), Christa Szalach (Naperville North, Sr., MF), Skyler Tomko (Lisle, Sr., MF), Angela Widlacki (Naperville North, Sr., D), Stephanie Zurales (Downers Grove South, Jr., F).
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Outlook: The top teams a season ago should once again dominate the area with Class 3A defending champion Naperville North leading the way in the always highly competitive DuPage Valley Conference. The Huskies return as many as seven starters as well as a deep bench from last year's team. The Huskies' only loss last season came in late April to Naperville Central in a match settled by penalty kicks. "Last year we finished first in the state and have a very talented senior class returning," Huskies coach Steve Goletz said. "We are looking forward to this season and trying to build on last season." Sophomore Abbie Boswell proved to be one of the top newcomers a season ago and was a fine complement to seniors Zoe Swift and Cora Climo. Christa Szalach, Mara Grygleski, Angela Widlacki and Emily Bromagen all return, while the squad welcomes sophomore goalkeeper Fiona Baezinger.
Naperville Central is coming off a 20-2-2 season, but one that ended abruptly in the state series against Lockport. The Redhawks lost longtime goalkeeper Jill D'Amico to graduation but return three of its starters on its backline (Amanda Alberts, Sabrina Cisneros and Meredith Tunney), which should ease the transition. With Veronica Ellis and Grace Orndorff back to dominate the midfield, the Redhawks should be very, very good once again, especially if Joyce continues to produce goals like she did a season ago.
Senior Dana Miller is back for her fourth season at Wheaton Warrenville South and will be accompanied by third-year players Kelly Langlas and Natalie Jensen. "Our speed of play should have us competing for a DVC title, regional final and hopefully a sectional title," Tigers coach Guy Callipari said. "We'll have a good mix of young players and experienced players. Coupled with team depth (this) should carry us deep into the playoffs barring injury." The Tigers, who are shooting for a sixth Wheaton Cup, also have junior keeper Abby Fuster back in net. Look for freshmen Anna Fank and Sarah Burns to step up despite their youth.
Scoring goals has plagued Wheaton North in recent years, but coach Tim McEvilly believes he has his best offensive unit since 2008. He also should have a strong backline, so there's optimism for a Falcons program that stalled at 10-10-1 last spring. "We have a very experienced backline with four returning starters and experienced bench players," he said. "Starting four has good speed and understanding of system." Goalkeeper Jessice Kiely has committed to Eastern Illinois, while sophomore Lexi Pelafas has developed into a dangerous scorer. "Pelafas would be a top player on most teams in the area," McEvilly said. "There are some veteran and young players around her this year that should assist us in finding success on the offensive side of the ball regularly."
Just to show you how competitive the DVC is, Glenbard East could only salvage a single victory last spring, going 1-6 in conference but 10-4-2 outside of conference. The Rams' biggest need this season will be to find a way to replace Lindsey Paganucci and Erin Mrazek, both of whom graduated. "We have a very strong if young team that we expect to compete from Day One," Rams coach Kent Overbey said. "We look to move up within the DVC and have our sights set on a regional title." Look for Jess DeJong and Alex Ruffer to help with the team's scoring while Kelly Ravenscraft will look to lead the defense in front of first-team all-sectional goalkeeper, Veronica Fairbairn, who with 17 shutouts could set a new school record this season. Don't be surprised if a few freshmen see a lot of action for West Chicago (4-19-0 in 2012) this spring. The team has several experienced returners, including senior forwards Andie Lazzerini and Katie Becker. "The first team in my seventh year of coaching that is ready to compete," Wildcats coach Cesar Gomez said. "(They have) great leadership and (are) eager to face the task ahead."
The Upstate Eight Valley is loaded this year, especially at Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley. The Warriors were one of the top teams last season and only lost a small handful of contributors from that 16-5-3 squad. But, most significantly, the team has its core back, many of whom have already committed to college and can turn their undivided attention at making a run at a state title. Rachele Armand (Louisville) and Jenna Romano (Wake Forest) will be expected to lead the team, but they have so much talent also around them, including dynamic scorer Kristen Dodson, Rachele and Kristen Brots, Karla DiJohn and Kendall Wilde. Sophomore Emma Rigby returns to goal after making quite a big splash last spring despite her youth.
Neuqua Valley will enter the season with some adversity after the Wildcats lost their top player, Zoey Goralski, to an ACL injury. She won't play in her final season. Still, the team has plenty of highly skilled players in Gianna Dal Pozzo, Hope D'Addario, Brooke Ksiazek and Shannon Donlon. "With a veteran squad, we hope to build off of last year's sectional final loss," Wildcats coach Joe Moreau said. "We are much deeper this year, and once everyone is healthy, we have the potential to be a very good team."
You know Metea Valley is going to be tough to be beat simply because they have Ohio State recruit Megan Geldernick in goal. The Mustangs also boast a very good backup keeper in Kiley Dunning. "We have 15 returning players, 12 with two years of varsity experience," Mustangs coach Pat Feulner said. Elena Sidwell, McKenzie Sheesley and Alyssa Fox will handle the midfield, while Jenna Kentgen has developed into one of the most prolific goal scorers in the area. Sam Butler also returns for a Mustangs team whose schedule includes Naperville North, St. Charles North, UEC Valley foes, as well as tournament appearances in the St.. Francis Springfest and Pepsi Challenge.
Lake Park was decimated by ACL injuries last year, losing five players to the dreaded knee injury. "I am very excited about this year having everyone back from injuries, knock on wood," Lancers coach Chris Fruehling said. "The girls have worked very hard in the off-season and look forward to competing this year." Megan Lindbert was one of the five sidelined due to an ACL injury. She enters her final season with 18 varsity goals and 14 assists. Alexandra Ruffolo, who stepped up and filled some big shoes as a freshman, had 9 goals and 8 assists last year. The Lancers also expect big things from senior midfielder Rachel Garippo and freshmen Emily Adelman and Jacey Kent to improve on last year's 8-6-3 season.
Scoring and youth are the biggest concerns for a Glenbard West program, which only won on five occasions in 2012.
Hinsdale Central didn't have a great deal of success last year but was competitive, and more importantly, returns a lot of players, including Casey May, Katie Camden and Darby Moran. "We have a core group of juniors and seniors who have played together the last two years, so they are excited about this season," Red Devils coach Michael Smith said. "There is an appreciation for the quality each player possesses and this will allow the girls to do some special things."
West Virginia recruit Bryce Banuelos will look to lead York, which should be in a running for a West Suburban Silver title with Lyons.
In the West Suburban Gold Willowbrook has a new coach in Victor Marquez. The team is without a single senior on its roster. "Our strength will reside in supplementing our six returning players with the outstanding talent of our young newcomers," Marquez said. Junior forward Melissa Rader, who missed last season due to an injury, returns to lead the offense along with fellow junior Linsdey Peterson. Sweeper Lauren Carroll also returns while newcomers Tiffany Brinkman and Erin Owen will be asked to step up and contribute immediately.
Downers Grove South, which was a perfect 6-0 in conference last year en route to placing third in the state in Class 3A, appears to be in prime position to try to duplicate its success. While the team graduated some talent, it also gained some as Stephanie Zurales is back for her junior year after opting for club last spring. She tallied 18 goals as a freshman. "Looking forward to some leaders stepping into roles, and the team developing their style of play," said Mustangs first-year coach Abby Anderson. "We hope our challenging schedule will prepare us to play and compete with the best."
Hinsdale South should improve upon last year's 7-13-3 mark, namely because the Hornets only graduated one player. Goalkeeper Vanessa Niestrom and defenders Colleen McPherson and Brenda Magueri also return for the Hornets while Jessica Mutters, who had focused on club soccer past two springs, also will don her school's uniform this season.
St. Francis and Wheaton Academy have battled year-after-year for supremacy in the Suburban Christian Conference and this year should be no different, other than the fact that St. Francis not only beat Wheaton Academy in the Class 2A playoffs, but got past that roadblock before winning the first state title in program history. "Unlike last year, we have many questions going into the season," St. Francis coach Jim Winslow said. "So although we have a bright outlook, we will have to figure out where we'll get our scoring from." The Spartans shouldn't have to worry about scoring very often with stingy senior Jenna DiTusa in goal and the entire starting back line returning. DiTusa and Taylor Bucaro have already committed to Bowling Green and will figure prominently in how well the team can perform as a defending state champion. Seniors Anna Vonderhaar, Katy Bucaro, Kate Rohback, Meg Wagner and Sarah Rahman all return.
At Wheaton Academy, the team will look a lot different now that Ally Witt and Crystal Thomas have graduated. The duo meant so much to the Warriors, so finding a way to ease their loss will be pivotal to whether or not the team can find continued success this spring.
Montini is also coping with losses on offense from last year's 9-11 squad. Freshman Megan Clausing is added to the mix while senior Jessica Bejna, an Illinois State signee, also will play a big role once she recovers from ACL surgery. "Solid young team on defense," Broncos coach Barry Briggs said. "(We're) looking for a scoring threat after losing (our) top two scorers."
Glenbard South dominated the Metro Suburban Conference (6-0 last year) and used a difficult nonconference schedule to prepare for the postseason, finishing 10-11-1 overall. DePaul recruit Dani Pitaro will lead the way, while Nicole Schutte, Dana Jourdan and Michaela Miglio also return for the Raiders. "We have the potential to do well if the players commit to working hard together," Raiders coach Glen Eggert said. Junior forward Sadie Moore is new to squad and could add another scoring element.
Benet's roster has plenty of new names after losing 16 players to graduation from last year's team, which fell to St. Francis in the state series. The team also is expected to be slowed at the onset of the season as senior Amanda Kaiser recovers from a broken toe. Players such as Sophia Elbchiri, Ellie Bumpus, Jacquie Kaufman and Rachel Bernicky will be asked to step in right away in support of sophomore goalkeeper Emma Hlavic, who gained a great deal of experience as a freshman.
Don't let Lisle's record for you. The Lions only went 14-12-2 last year, but it also included a sluggish 2-7 start. Regardless, they still brought home a trophy, placing fourth in Class 1A. Plus, they only lost one senior starter. This year, Skyler Tomko, Val Melo and goalkeeper Vanessa Roach are all back to try to improve on last year's campaign. Additionally, sophomore Julia Loveless, who missed last year due to injury, should add to the team's success. "We expect to pick up our pace of play and will look to counterattack much more this season," Lisle coach Paul Kohorn said. Lisle will play its home games at Benedictine University this spring and hopes to use the artificial surface to its advantage.
-- Chris Walker