Girls soccer/ MSL Soccer Cup preview
Hersey (16-4-1) vs. Barrington (13-3-1)Where: Barrington Community Stadium
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
History lesson: This is the 25th time the Mid-Suburban League's divisional winners have met to decide the overall conference championship. No stranger to the MSL Cup, Darren Llewellyn made a habit of leading Hersey to four straight appearances, lifting three consecutive trophies during his 10 years in charge of the Huskies boys program before taking over for Brad Abel this spring. Abel had enjoyed a wonderful run leading the Hersey girls, including the last Soccer Bowl appearance in 2012. On that night, then sophomore Elli Ackerman fired in the game-winner in the 80th minute. Abel took the Huskies to this championship match seven times altogether, winning it all in 2011 after a 2-1 decision over Conant. Barrington earned its sixth title in program history after defeating Buffalo Grove last May; it was the program's third MSL title in the last four seasons. The Fillies join division rival Fremd in leading the league in overall Soccer Cup appearances with 11. In the only meeting of the season between this year's competitors, Hersey gained gain a 1-0 result, with the Fillies playing most of its second team after already locking away the MSL West crown.
Who to watchHersey: Lauren Gierman (Sr, MF-F, 19g, 11a), Morgan Harris (Sr, GK, 16 shutouts, 0.28), Sara Magnuson (Sr, MF-D, 6g), Megan Brant (Sr, D), Kayla Knauss (Sr, D), Annie Korff (Jr, D), Jessica Schmidt (Jr, F-MF, 7g, 10a).
Barrington: Jenna Szczesny (Jr, F, 20g, 13a), Hannah Luedtke (Jr, GK, 11 shutouts, 0.57), Carrie Madden (Sr, F-MF, 5, 15a), Nicole Niro (Sr, MF, 10g), Mia Calamari (D, 7a), Elli Ackerman (Sr, F, 8g, 4a).
Hersey outlook: Lauren Gierman is certainly a player to watch. The four-year all-star and 2013 all-stater is the one her teammates try to play through about 90 percent of the time. The NIU-bound senior has marvelous vision, distributes with accuracy, pace and creativity, and elevates the play of others around her. In addition, Gierman is a deadly free-kick artist. Junior Jessica Schmidt has had a breakout year to become the team's second-leading scorer, while Abby Wendell has given the club plenty of energy and stability in her role as a defensive midfielder. With all that said, the team's true strength may be along the back, where Abel began a tradition of stingy play and the quartet of Brant, Knauss, Korff and Magnuson have extended it by excelling in front of keeper Morgan Harris. This unit has allowed only 2 goals in the run of play while conceding just 1 PK, with Harris earning 16 shutouts overall. "We're a team of defenders, and defensive minds, so I knew we would be a tough defensive team," said Llewellyn. "But even I was a little surprised we went through the MSL season without giving up a goal, and undefeated as well." The head coach said in the early going they would view tape to break down their own game, concentrating on rotations, shape and organization, before slowly working on getting forward and asking Gierman to expand her game. "We're not a team full of attacking players, but the girls do so well with adapting and changing things around according to our opponent, and I applaud each and every one of them for their positive thinking and play, high work rate, and understanding of what it means to compete with honor and character."
Barrington outlook: MSL championships, it seems, appears to be in the DNA of the Fillies. Barrington has become the league's dominant team and is the two-time defending league champ, with players such as Calamari and Ackerman looking to make it three straight. "With the loss of Molly (Pfeiffer), one of the best ever here, and the Daily Herald player of the year, it looked to me as if Conant was the team to beat in our division because they had everyone coming back," said coach Ryan Stengren. "The addition off Madden and Niro from club made an already good team even more solid, but it takes time to blend together so many freshmen, along with those club players, plus the others who were coming back. There were a lot of questions, but Madden and Niro looked like they've been here forever, and everyone has bought in to what we're doing. After watching countless training sessions, then the way we play against elite programs, I knew we could be back in this match once again." The Fillies have dealt with adversity along the way, but Stengren feels the team has become closer than ever before because of it. The firepower the club possesses is stunning, led by the Szczesny who, despite missing three full games and parts of others, has still fired in 20 goals. Madden can create and score with the best of them, Niro and Ackerman command attention in the final third, and the trio of Calamari, Carrie Caplin and Jackie Batliner effectively vanquish the attack of opponents in front of the Fillies' superb, and athletic all-state GK Luedtke.
Touchline talkDarren Llewellyn (1st year): "Barrington is very good. Big, fast, skilled, and since we didn't really get a good look at all that they have in the last game, we'll have to be mentally ready for another high powered attack, although it won't be the same that Buffalo Grove brings. I expect to see that big weak side played like we saw last Friday (against BG), and I know for sure we'll have to watch their corners, and crafty, fast people up top. The real strength of this team is they are warriors. They are hard-working, compete, mentally strong, and they believe."
Ryan Stengren (7th year): "You've got to hand it to Hersey, they went through the conference undefeated, and unscored upon, and right now, they are the best in the MSL in my mind. This might be the first time in all of our trips to the Soccer Cup that we're the underdog, but, again, Hersey deserves to be the favorite after the season they just completed. We'll have our hands full because they are defensively so strong, so our goal will be to bring them out of that defensive hard shell that they play, and out of their comfort zone. We have a great group, who, for our seniors especially, want to go out with three in a row."
-- Mike Garofola