Top teams: Benet, Hinsdale Central, Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley.
Top players: Emily Adelman (Lake Park, so., MF), Fiona Baezinger (Naperville North, jr., GK), Emily Barry (Wheaton North, sr., D), Katie Baumann (Benet, sr., D), Abbie Boswell (Naperville North, jr., F), Kristen Brots (Waubonsie Valley, sr., MF), Alison Cerny (Hinsdale Central, sr., MF), Katie Ciesiulka (Neuqua Valley, sr., MF), Arianna DePinto (Glenbard North, jr, GK), Anne DiCanio (York, sr., GK), Kristen Dodson (Sr., Waubonsie Valley, F), Abby Fuster (Wheaton Warrenville South, sr., GK), Tina Guarino (Fenton, sr., MF), Corky Hart (St. Francis, jr., D), AJ Jakuszewski (Wheaton Warrenville South., jr., MF), Abby Joyce (Naperville Central, sr., F), Morgan Kemerling (Waubonsie Valley, jr., MF), Gianna Marconi (Downers Grove North, sr., MF), Michelle Morefield (Benet, sr., MF), Abby Olson (Wheaton Academy, sr., MF), Grace Orndorf (Naperville Central, sr., MF), Lexi Pelafas (Wheaton North, jr., F), Ashley Pogue (Glenbard North, sr., F), Kelly Ravenscraft (Glenbard East, sr., D), Emma Rigby (Waubonsie Valley jr. GK), Talise Romain (Neuqua Valley, sr., D), Mary Rounce (Downers Grove North, sr., MF), Alex Ruffer (Glenbard East, sr., MF), Megan Schick (Hinsdale Central, sr., MF), Olivia Schmitt (Neuqua Valley, sr., MF), Meredith Tunney (Naperville Central, jr., D), Stephanie Zurales (Downers Grove South, sr., F).
Outlook: It seems as if the DuPage Valley Conference could be very interesting and far more unpredictable than in recent years. Glenbard East returns nine starters from an 11-10-2 team, but one that only went 1-5-1 in conference. With Western Michigan recruit Alex Ruffer in the midfield, Kelly Ravenscraft leading the defense and sophomore Brittany Paganucci already proving she can score, the Rams appear ready for a big season in conference. "We have a lot of experience in the midfield," Rams coach Kent Overbey said. "The combination of Alex Ruffer and Megan Mrazek started all 23 games last year." Taylor Hallcox and Jessica Whipple will also contribute in the midfield, while Corie Ewoldt and Maria Berrum will help Ravenscraft in the back. "Expectations are high," Overbey said. "Our experience in the midfield, along with the speed at forward should be a tough test for opponents. Our defense will be strong and we hope to post as many shutouts as possible."
Senior Ashley Pogue scored 12 goals in 2013 and returns to lead Glenbard North, yet another team looking to rise in the conference this season. "I anticipate (Pogue) will again be a real threat for us, along with Emily Dybowski, Katie Fryer and Jamie Scott," Panthers coach David Stanfield said. "It was particularly pleasing that last year, the goals were spread around the team, with Rachel McDonnell scoring 6 and Arianna Callard 3." Defensively, the Panthers welcome Arianna DePinto back in goal. She'll receive protection by an experienced group of seniors. "I take a lot of pride and satisfaction from the number of compliments we receive for our possession game, and we hope to build on that, with quick transitions from defense to attack and back," Stanfield said. "This is perhaps the deepest we have been in talent in this, my ninth year. I believe we have a realistic chance of making the regional final."
The target will remain on two-time defending Class 3A champion Naperville North's back, but the Huskies will look a lot different this year after they bid farewell to 12 seniors who were pivotal to those two state titles and helped the team go 46-1-4 over that same time period. In addition, junior Abbie Boswell, who had 27 goals and 10 assits last year, is coming back from a knee injury. A rebuilt backline could feature as many as three freshmen, so they will be key for the Huskies in front of junior gaolkeeper Fiona Baezinger. "I think that people have this expectation that we're not going to be as great as last year," senior defender Meghan Lee said. "But we have a lot of competition in the Naperville area with these clubs players, so I think we'll not be as bad as some people perceive us to be." The Huskies have already begun this season 0-1-1, losing 1-0 to Hinsdale Central. It was the Huskies' first home loss since April 29, 2012.
Senior midfielder Grace Orndorff (Northwestern) and senior forward Abby Joyce are both entering their fourth season at Naperville Central and will look to lead a team that has 16 underclassmen on the roster. Don't let that fool you though, as those youngsters could make an impact right away, while junior defender Meredith Tunney, goalkeeper Abby Hershik and sophomore defender Kayla Rowan also return. The Redhawks finished 15-5-3 last spring. "It's tough in the early going to see what we really have," Naperville Central coach Ed Watson said. "We've got some experienced seniors and other players back, but we've also very young."
Wheaton Warrenville South will rely on a core of third-year players, midfielder AJ Jakuszewski, defenders Tory Adomshick and Caroline Holmes and goalkeeper Abby Fuster. "Our speed of play should have us competing for a DVC title, regional finals and hopefully a sectional final," Tigers coach Guy Callipari said. "We'll have a good mix of young players and experienced players, and coupled with team depth, it should carry us deep into the playoffs barring injury." Look for freshmen Rachel Erdman and Emily Calloway to work their way into the Tigers' backline.
Wheaton North was only 9-9-3 last year, 10-10-1 the year before, so perhaps this is the year the Falcons can piece together a winning season. The team lost 10 players to graduation but returns Central Michigan recruit Lexi Pelafas, one of the most talented scorers in the area. Senior defenders Emily Barry and Lyndi Armstrong will look to anchor things in the back for the Falcons.
Sadly, the devastating injury bug has invaded Roselle again this spring as three Lake Park starters (senior Jessica Berkshire, junior Alex Ruffolo and sophomore Jacey Kent) are out for the season, and then there are the graduation losses, including Megan Lindbert. "It is my hope that our players are able to rise to the occasion and help fill those voids on the field this year," Lancers coach Chris Fruehling said. The Lancers are coming off a 15-win season and will look for big contributions from Emily Adelman and Jillian Kent, along others. The team does return nine players from last season, so despite the losses the Lancers have some talent and experience to work with this spring.
The three area Valley teams should be very good in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division. Waubonsie Valley returns at least six players who have committed to play in college, seniors Kristen Dodson (Auburn), Kristen Brots (Kent State), Rachael Brots (SIUE), Mackenzie Fuller (UIC) and juniors Morgan Kemerling and Emma Rigby, who will both eventually play at the University of Iowa. The Warriors are coming off a fantastic 19-4-1 season in which they went undefeated in conference. They appear to be the team to beat not only in conference but in the area as well.
Neuqua Valley welcomes back Katie Ciesiuka, who had 12 goals and 8 assists in 2013, but the Wildcats still have concerns with scoring this spring. "We have a lot of girls returning with good game experience, so that should help us on the field," Wildcats coach Joe Moreau said. "We will defend well, the question will be who will score." Seniors Talise Romain (Florida) and Kelly Keckler (WIU) are back to patrol the backline.
Jenna Kentgen will look to extend her school record of 44 goals at Metea Valley. The senior forward can no longer peek into the net to find comfort in Megan Geldernick, now that the former standout is at Ohio State University. Still, the Mustangs have three-year starters Megan Buchanan and Tracey McCoy back to lead a proven backline. "Very fast team," Metea Valley coach Pat Feulner said. "(We) should be able to score goals, and all (our) defenders return."
The conference newcomer is West Chicago, which has been tested year after year in the DVC and now makes it UEC Valley debut. The Wildcats are still a young team this season, so how quickly they can use what they learned last year while finding an answer to fill the void of standout Andie Lazzerini will be key.
In the Suburban Christian Conference, Wheaton Academy returns nine starters and 15 players overall from last year's 10-10-3 squad. "Our biggest strength is depth," Wheaton Academy coach Dave Underwood said. "It will enable us to try many different girls in multiple spots on the field." Last season, no one emerged as a goal scorer, although Abby Olson netted 12. "If we can figure out a way to put the ball in the back of the net, we will be very competitive," Underwood said.
St. Francis only allowed 5 goals during a 17-2-0 season that ended in the Riverside-Brookfield sectional title match. The team will no longer have Jenna DiTusa in goal, though. Forwards Andrea Ravlin and Brittany Douglas return, along with midfielder Taylor Van Thournot and defenders Rachel Rahman and Corky Hart. "We are young," St. Francis coach Jim Winslow said. "Rebuilding begins this year, and youth has its pluses and minuses, but there is a good core coming back."
Montini is coming off back-to-back regional titles, the first two in program history, and they should be pretty solid again this season. All-conference selections Katelyn Pietras and Valerie Sanchez will lead the Broncos.
Hinsdale Central finished second in the state in Class 3A last spring and compiled an 18-4-3 record. The Red Devils appear to be the team to beat once again in the West Suburban Silver. "The team has a tremendous fighting spirit," Red Devils coach Michael M. Smith said. "Practice sessions have been quite competitive and the girls are motivated to replicate and surpass last year's accomplishments. The tactical and technical acumen each player possesses is exciting, as well."
Although Downers Grove North only finished 8-9-0 last year, the Trojans could be one of the better success stories this spring thanks to some key acquisitions, including senior Mary Rounce (Michigan State) joining the squad after committing to club the past two seasons and junior Ellie Metros returning from an injury. They should mix in nicely with Gianna Marconi (Colorado State) and all-conference players Emma Krick and Kailyn Gunderson. "This season we look forward to controlling the ball nicely through the middle of the field," Trojans coach Bob Calder said. "We have more scoring power than we did last year." Winning 15-plus games and a conference title are two of the team's goals.
York welcomes new coach Donald Vana. "We should have enough talent that will allow us to substitute without missing much on the field," he said. "How deep is the talent? We will have to wait and see." Senior goalkeeper Anne DiCanio (UIC) gives the team a strong stopper and defenders Jamie Kovatchis and Annalise Lappo also return. Catherine Kent (Loyola), Carys Hund and Emily Whitcomb are all new to the squad but give the Dukes a lot of weapons in the midfield.
Glenbard West struggled last year. The Hilltoppers didn't score in 10 matches and only scored 16 goals all season. They'll look to improve, but it won't come easy against a difficult schedule.
Downers Grove South appears to be in prime position to repeat as West Suburban Gold champion again with senior Stephanie Zurales and sophomore Autumn Rasmussen leading the attack. "Our team speed and experience of defending core will bring some strengths that we can build upon immediately," Mustangs coach Abby Anderson said. "We will be quick up top. We have a strong senior class with a lot of great leaders."
Hinsdale South has a lot of senior leadership so the Hornets will look to see if that can help them improve on last year's third-place finish in conference. Seniors Elisabetta Bifero, Cassie Jensen, Jessica Koziol, Mary Claire Ladd, Alissa Lokanc and Maggie Nicosia are expected to lead the squad.
Willowbrook looks to continue its slow rise. The team returns three all-conference selections in junior Jessica Budig and seniors Tiffany Brinkman and Lauren Carroll.
Sophomore Petra Kyriakopoulos was one of the leaders as a freshman last season for Addison Trail. She'll look to help the Blazers, who were just 1-5 in conference in 2013.
There's no doubt that Benet will be experienced with 17 returning varsity players, including senior center mid Michelle Morefield and junior Jacquie Kaufmann. Junior goalie Emma Hlavin also is back as part of a group that went 17-5-1 last year, won a regional title and dominated the East Suburban Catholic Conference. "On the field our greatest strength is defense," Benet coach Bob Gros said. The Redwings are ambitious. Perhaps seeing the school's boys basketball team take second place in Class 4A has them optimistic that they can get to state themselves as one of the team's goals is to advance to the final four in state.
Glenbard South is known for testing itself with formidable opponents and then dominating play in the Metro Suburban Conference. Such was the case last year, as the Raiders were 9-10-1 overall, yet 6-0-0 in conference. Senior midfielder Michaela Miglio and senior defender Stephanie Brennan return to lead the Raiders.
Fenton brings back seven starters, including senior midfielder Tina Guarino and senior goalkeeper Selena Mendoza, among others. "Our midfield will be our strength and our defense is going to be young as we lost three of our backline to graduation," Bison coach Victor Ruiz said. "On the offensive side we will be young as well, as we lost our second leading scorer to graduation." Ruiz is hopeful that competition for playing time will ultimately help the team in the long haul.
Lisle has plenty of experience, with four-year players Elena Pivek and Val Melo back to lead a veteran squad. "We have an experienced starting 11," Lisle coach Paul Kohorn said. "However, we have a complete lack of experience at the varsity level coming off the bench. So staying away from serious injuries will be a key to a successful season."
-- Chris Walker