The Huntley girls soccer team is making teams take notice in the early going of the 2013 season.
The Red Raiders are off to a hot 7-1-1 start going into Thursday's scheduled Pepsi Showdown quarterfinal contest with Plainfield North at 5 p.m. at Huntley.
Huntley already has wins over Maine South (1-0) and Lyons Township (2-1) in the prestigious event. Lyons was the No. 5 seed in the tournament. Huntley is the 12 seed. Plainfield South is the No. 4 seed. A win sends the Red Raiders to the semifinals against either York (No. 17 seed) or Glenbrook South (No. 9 seed) Saturday at Olympic Park in Schaumburg.
Defense was a key to the victory over Lyons.
"It was a great win because I didn't think we played particularly well," said Huntley coach Kris Grabner. "The girls defended like their lives depended on it. We found a way."
Huntley owns 6 shutouts in its 9 games. Goalie Jessica Galason has allowed only 5 goals and has 5 shutouts.
"We are playing smart soccer," said Grabner. "The coaches put a game plan together for Lyons and the girls executed it very well."
Taryn Jakubowski leads Huntley in scoring with 4 goals and 7 assists, while Deanna Hecht has 3 goals and 2 assists.
"Goals are coming from many different players," said Grabner. "We don't have just one player to defend."
One major asset for Huntley on defense has been Katie Costantino.
"Katie has been amazing in shutting play down through the middle of the field," said Grabner. "She had the task of defending Lyons' Ari Kowalski (University of Indiana signee) in the second half. She was tenacious, focused and greatly reduced Kowalski's ability to run the LT offense. Katie is our unsung hero. She never stops working and gets very little credit for it. She does the work that allows other players to have success."
Grabner likes how the team continues to excel even when things aren't always smooth sailing.
"We've had a solid start to the season," he said. "I like that the girls are finding ways to win. It isn't always pretty soccer, but it doesn't have to be. The girls' attitudes have been amazing. I look forward to seeing continued growth from individuals and the team as a whole."
Burlington Central update: The Rockets are off to a great 6-0-1 start, which includes a 3-0-1 mark in Big Northern Conference East Division play. Central's only non-win was a 0-0 league stalemate against Richmond-Burton.
The Rockets have scored 28 goals in their first 7 games and have allowed only 3 goals.
Scoring has come from a variety of sources thus far. Senior Camille Dela Cruz leads the team with 6 goals and 10 assists. Junior Cali Andrew has 7 goals and 3 assists, while sophomore Ellen Jayne has 3 goals and 5 assists. Junior Alyssa Messina has 3 goals and 3 assists.
Goalie Taylor Martin (a junior) has made 18 saves and sports a nonexistent 0.43 goals-against average.
Larkin update: The Royals are 2-5 overall, but coach Ken Hall is seeing improvements both on the individual and team levels.
Jaci Bridgers and Sam Moreno each have 3 goals to lead the Larkin offense.
"We are more athletic this year and compete harder," said Hall. "We have scored more goals this year already than all of last year. We struggle a bit on transition defense, but when we are set in formation we do a good job."
Sophomore outside defenders Mia Gill and Elisa Vargas were cited for their improvements during the first seven games.
Defensive midfielder Liza Moreno also has provided a spark for the Royals.
"Liza plays defensive midfield and has done a good job," said Hall. "That position rarely gets any credit on the field, but is vital to team success."
Hall is looking forward to tracking this group's progress in the near future.
"I believe in six of our next 8 games we can compete with the other teams and maybe come out with some victories and hopefully build some confidence," he said.
St. Edward update: The Green Wave was 1-1 overall through midweek. St. Edward scored a Suburban Christian Conference win over IC Catholic Prep. It was the Green Wave's first game since March 23.
Allison Kruk and Mary Kate Nastali each have 1 goal on the young season. Chelsea Gnan and Monica Ramirez each have an assist.
"We have numerous interchangeable parts on offense," said St. Edward coach Tim Brieger. "Mary Kate stepped in off the bench against IC to score the game-winner. We can give many different looks and personnel groups."
Brieger has seen a composed defensive unit show its strengths as a group in the first 2 games. Casey Gredzielski and goalie Paige Dykstra have been key components thus far in the back.
"Casey has stepped into the spot held by Katie Ayello for the past three seasons and our defense has not missed a beat," said Brieger. "Paige Dykstra replaced Paige Gannon (2012 honorary Daily Herald All-Area captain) and is off to a very solid start."
Brieger, now just 2 wins short of 200 with the St. Edward girls program, has particularly been pleased with Nastali and Olivia Kochanek's contributions.
"Mary Kate gives us valuable minutes off the bench, which will help in such a condensed and overloaded season," he said. "Olivia gives us depth at midfield, which allows us to move personnel around and present different looks."
Like with other area teams, weather has played a big role in the Green Wave's season thus far.
"Weather is really affecting the season," said Brieger. "We're going to be playing four or five games a week for the rest of the season. It doesn't help that Class 1A is one week shorter than 2A and 3A, especially when you have to make up conference games with teams that are 2A and 3A."
St. Edward is slated to play at Rosary Thursday and will host the Green Wave invitational Friday and Saturday.
South Elgin update: The Storm is off to a strong 4-2-1 start (1-1 Upstate Eight Valley).
Coach Tiffany Disher has been pleased with how the team's high-scoring offense has been distributed throughout the roster.
"We have 26 goals in five games," she pointed out. "Our goals have been spread throughout the whole team from defense to midfielders to forwards. We have scored in every game thus far. The best part about our offense is it comes from everyone. You never know who is going to knock the next goal in and where it is going to come from on the field. The whole team has contributed to our offensive success."
Disher has been pleased with the increased speed of the team's attack.
"Since the first game the team has improved its shot quickness," she said. "We struggled the first game with taking shots when we were open. They have since learned to shoot quicker and follow their shots. The team has done a nice job of getting numbers up to support the attack and playing as a team. In six of the first seven games we have dominated possession and have worked very well together with switching fields, making runs and connecting passes."
Co-captain Andrea Walsh is the team's leading scorer, but provides much more than just goals and assists.
"Andrea Walsh has really stepped up to her role," said Disher. "She has played several positions and with her soccer IQ has been able to play them flawlessly. Her passion, quickness, drive and determination has flourished throughout the team. She is unselfish, always puts her team first and is a true asset to South Elgin High School soccer."
South Elgin also has 4 shutouts to its credit.
"Our defense is the heart of the team," said Disher. "They are our leaders and have done an excellent job stopping some of the toughest opponents. We always focus on defense first and it starts from up top. We expect every player on the team will be a good defender every game."
Walsh, Veronika Noysewski, Natalie Castro, Corinne Hildebrandt and Anna Tracy have combined to give South Elgin a key defensive push.
"They have really owned the defense," said Disher. "They generally work hard, smart and together every game."
Jourdan Vaulkner has been stellar between the pipes.
"Jourdan leads this pack with her vocals in goal and they all communicate with each other for the duration of the game," said Disher. "Our defense steps up and supports the attack being the complete package."
South Elgin hosts Streamwood at Millennium Field tonight.
"We are very happy with the start of the season," said Disher. "Some of our team goals have been to score more goals than we have scored against us, to work as a team and to win our spring break tournament. We didn't win the tournament, but we finished a close second (2-1 loss to West Chicago). It was a well-played match and was pretty even throughout the game. Looking further into the season we want to place higher than last year. We are hoping with the conference games coming up that we will be able to pull in a win or two."
Harvest Christian Academy update: Harvest Christian scored its first conference win recently, a 3-0 win over Christian Liberty. The Lions were 1-0-2 through their first 3 games.
Ellie Burzlaff leads the team in scoring with 3 goals and 3 assists. Brittany Salazar has 2 goals and 2 assists.
Coach Basilio Salazar has been pleased with the team's possession improvement. He noted the team has a strong ability to connect combination plays with each other and fights hard and communicates on the defensive side of the ball.
Rebekah Salowitz is one player in particular who has excelled on the defensive end.
"Rebekah is patient and composed," said Salazar. "She has made some big plays to cover and stop some potential goal-scoring opportunities. She is a freshman and has had three good games where she has made big plays in each game. She is a defender who does not normally get recognized."
Salazar likes the team's progress through 3 games.
"We're off to a better start than last year," he said. "The girls have been able to connect with each other on the field and off the field quicker than they did last year. They are moving the ball well and have been able to find the back of the net. We had two ties in our first two games and have made some mistakes, preventing two wins. But the girls are learning from the mistakes and are looking to have a strong season in conference and nonconference play. This is our first year in a conference and we hope to make a strong impact in our inaugural season."
Harvest plays in the St. Edward tournament with games against Elgin Academy and Westminster Christian Friday and St. Edward and Genoa on Saturday.
Elgin Academy update: The Hilltoppers have had 6 games canceled already due to weather. The team, which has not played a game yet, was slated to compete against Chicago U-High Wednesday. It will play in the St. Edward tournament this weekend.
"It's going to be a very busy April for us," said Elgin Academy coach Shannon Walter.
Crystal Lake South update: The Gators were 4-1-1 through midweek, which included a 4-0 win over neighbor Crystal Lake Central Tuesday.
MacKenzie Taldone leads the Gators with 4 goals. Audrey Collard has 3 goals. Assists leaders are Alexandra Romano and Bianca Miceli.
"We are successful when we work as a unit to create options for our offense," said South coach Anne Santucci.
Santucci has noticed an uptick in the team's in-game management ability.
"We have worked on making adjustments during a match to improve our play as a team and as individuals," said Santucci.
The coach noted numerous improvements have occurred on the defensive side of the ball.
"We have defenders who are willing to make runs to create opportunities," she said. "Our defense works really hard and they stay positive and are great leaders for the team."
Seniors Emily Schoenfeldt and Faith Brunner have stepped to the forefront on defense in recent times.
"Emily and Faith are in the middle and have been the leaders for the other defenders," said Santucci. "They lead by example and by their attitude on the field."
The coach added she has a roster of players who are willing to do what it takes to win games.
"I have a lot of girls who have become utility players," said Santucci. "They are willing to play hard where and when I need them even if it is not for a lot of minutes or in their strongest position."
Santucci likes where here team stands through 6 games. "I'm very happy with the effort and attitude so far," she said. "They push themselves hard but stay positive. We have great leadership and not just at the senior level. It's still early in the season, but if we don't become complacent we should be hard to beat."
South plays in the Prospect tournament this weekend.
Dundee-Crown update: Through D-C's first 9 games, Jill Wiechmann is leading the team in scoring with 3 goals and 1 assist. Ashley Raby has 2 goals, while Frankie Scarpelli has 1 goal and 3 assists.
D-C coach Sebastian Falinski had high praise for Wiechmann's leadership and Scarpelli's involvement on the offensive end.
"Jill has played her heart out in each and ever game demonstrating to the newcomers on the team the kind of effort and hard work required at this level," said Falinski.
Falinski has seen his team improve on winning and challenging 50-50 balls and playing at a faster pace.
"We've stressed on connecting more passes and communicating more on and off the ball," he said.
The coach has noticed the team creating more opportunities on offense the last five games.
"However, we are not making the most of our opportunities," said Falinski. "The girls have been increasing their work rate off the ball and have done a better job making smart decisions with the ball."
Defensively, D-C has improved on defending set pieces. Jordan Fryer and Brittney Gantz were lauded for strong play as center backs. Falinski noted Carson Bloch has made a nice transition from outside mid to outside back.
Despite a 2-7 record, Falinski has seen some numerous positives. He stressed the team must continue to work on its consistency throughout a match.
"We have underachieved in numerous matches," he said. "Early in the season we continued to have slow starts, placing ourselves in a very difficult position to come back from. We have yet to compete at a high level for an entire game. We have moments where we look really sharp and play really well, but then we allow mistakes that other teams capitalize on. I believe our record should not be 2-7. We have had numerous matches where I thought we had the advantage over the other team. But our inability to play at a high level early and our inability to capitalize on scoring chances has hindered us."
The team also has played short-handed in the early going.
"We have not been able to dress and play every individual and have the opportunity to see our team's full potential until recently," said Falinski. "Our potential is looking good. The girls are starting to play at a higher level and are playing more together on a consistent basis. I'm looking forward to seeing how the girls respond as the season progresses."