One of the most successful regular seasons in area girls soccer came to a close Saturday when Rosary defeated St. Francis to win the Suburban Christian Conference title.
Now all eyes move to the postseason. In the Class 3A tournament, St. Charles North, St. Charles East and Batavia grabbed the top three seeds in the Hoffman Estates sectional.
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In the 2A tournament, Rosary is a No. 1 seed in the Rochelle regional. Whether favorites or underdogs, regional play figures to be extremely competitive when it begins this week.
St. Charles North faces DeKalb in Wednesday's DeKalb regional semifinals. The Barbs were 3-0 winners on Saturday over Elgin. The North Stars (15-3-1) were the winners of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title, though they enter the tournament 2-2-1 in their last five matches.
"We'll focus on (DeKalb) and whoever we see down the road, you have to beat some of the better ones to get there anyway," St. Charles North coach Ruth Vostal said.
With an opening round win, St. Charles North could meet Lake Park or Glenbard North with a chance to move into the Hoffman Estates sectional. The North Stars have some players who have played sparingly recently in an attempt to heal minor injuries before the tournament begins.
"You look at last year, and we had some injuries and we lost a couple of game going into the tournament," Vostal said. "To me, games don't have to be contagious. I tell them that if they take a penalty kick and if someone misses, it doesn't have to be contagious to the people behind them. You have to be mentally stronger than that. I feel the same with matches. Losing 3-0 to Waubonsie Valley (on Wednesday) is not going to dictate how we play. We focus and we learn."
The North Stars finished second in the Class 3A tournament a year ago and were third in 2010. This year's seniors have been part of two long postseason runs.
"We have time and we will do enough with preparing them before we play," Vostal said. "I look at the girls who have had such a great experience at North and an experience they want to continue with this year. They have pulled together all year."
St. Charles East (13-5-2) is the No. 2 seed in the Hoffman Estates sectional and competes in the Bartlett regional and opens with a Tuesday match against No. 16-seed Larkin. The Saints are unbeaten in four matches as they enter the tournament.
"They know this is as good a chance as they've had to be successful with St. Charles East in a long time," Saints coach Paul Jennison said. "I hope they can carry it on and continue to perform well. As I've said, our first goal is to try to take care of that regional. If we are fortunate enough to come through that, anything after that is a bonus."
St. Charles East's regular season was its best since 2007, when the Saints fell in the supersectional to eventual state champion Waubonsie Valley. But Jennison said his focus was on beating Larkin, then worrying about a second-round match between either Geneva or Bartlett.
"One of two things can happen," Jennison said. "If you go into that (Larkin) game thinking it's going to be an easy game, you find yourself struggling and then coming off a bad performance. I can tell you that anyone can beat anyone because I've been on the end of that first-hand and I've seen upsets. We're going to go in ready to go."
The Geneva (12-8-1) team Jennison could face in Saturday's regional title match has finished the season strongly. The Vikings are on a six-match winning streak and have outscored the opposition 29-0 in those matches.
"We've been playing really well, especially offensively," Geneva coach Megan Owens said. "We've worked a lot of kinks out. We've stepped up in areas we were struggling before. We hope to carry that into the playoffs. We're playing well and that's where you want to be heading into the postseason."
The Vikings have recorded 11 shutouts in their 21 matches, including the current scoreless string that extends to 492 minutes.
"Our defense from the past few years has been decent," Owens said. "We have three players back there who are three-year varsity starters. They bring a lot of experience and a lot of chemistry for us. They're always very solid."
Geneva defeated Bartlett 4-0 on Tuesday.
"We were, in a way fortunate to play Bartlett a week ago so we know what to expect," Owens said. "But the girls are hoping they can have a rematch against East."
Geneva and St. Charles East met twice within a week during the regular season, and St. Charles East won both matches -- losses that contributed to a season-long five-match losing streak for the Vikings.
"They know we didn't play our best soccer," Owens said of the losses to the Saints. "We are hoping to have a chance to play them again and play our best soccer and see what the results are when we show up and play our game. If we do play them, it will be a really hard fought battle. They have a nice team."
Batavia (11-4-3) parlayed its best regular season since 2010 into a No. 3 seed and a first-round match with Hoffman Estates on Tuesday in the Lake Park regional. Batavia is in search of its first regional title since 2008.
In his second season as the head coach of the Bulldogs, Mark Gianfrancesco sees this year as a continuation of the resurgence of the program.
"This year, it's not a transition year any more," Gianfrancesco said. "The seniors have done the job of leading. The others have done a nice job in inserting themselves in roles to make us successful. There's not people separating themselves from the group. It helps us off the field but it transfers onto the field too."
Batavia has won two regional titles in school history. If the Bulldogs defeat Hoffman Estates, Lake Park or Glenbard North will stand in the way of a 2013 regional title.
"Last year, we played in a regional final and I had one girl who had been on the field for a regional final," Gianfrancesco said. "They were there last year. They saw that -- over 60 percent of these girls saw that last year."
The Lake Park regional feeds into the Hoffman Estates sectional -- where two other local teams could be waiting.
"We know what we need to do to get this done," Gianfrancesco said. "Rather than be nervous, we can go in with a little bit of confidence. The next step for this program is winning a regional. They worked hard to get the No. 3 seed. Now there is more to accomplish."
West Aurora (7-13-2) has the toughest road of the Class 3A teams. Seeded 13th in the Bolingbrook sectional, the Blackhawks face Neuqua Valley on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Bolingbrook regional. Should the Blackhawks gain the upset, the probable second round opponent would be Naperville Central.
Rosary and Kaneland are the top two seeds in the Class 2A Rochelle regional, one of four regionals in the Freeport sectional. Rosary heads into the tournament on the heels of Saturday's penalty kick shootout win over St. Francis which earned the team its first conference title since 2007.
"We kept talking about how we needed to focus on the conference first and then we could focus on the tournament," Rosary coach Kristy Kane said. "Hopefully we can carry this momentum forward."
Rosary played Rochelle on Tuesday and Kaneland meets IMSA on Wednesday while the title match is Friday. All matches in the regional kick off at 4 p.m.
Kaneland enters the postseason 10-4-3 and was second in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference runner-up this spring.
"We're in a place with some teams that we haven't played, so there's a little of the unknown," Kane said. "I felt that last year, we knew a little more about the teams. Kaneland's always tough and they have that great goalie (Jordan Ginther), so we can't get a little too ahead of ourselves. We're just focused on maybe repeating on regional champions again, but that's going to be tough in itself."
Rosary's keeper, Lauren Frasca, is having a stellar season as well. She made a save and converted a penalty kick during the shootout win over St. Francis.
Aurora Central Catholic's tournament run is already over. The Chargers fell 8-1 to Hinckley-Big Rock in H-BR's Class 1A regional on Saturday.