The state soccer tournament draw -- kind of tricky, plenty of fun, and all sorts of dramatics as the knockout stages continue.
You may try to read the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup, but the future of many of the favorites may hinge on stunning unexpected goals or heartbreaking overtime results, turning sectional venues upside down to match the emotions of the players, coaches and fans.
Here's a brief look at the four sectionals involving Mid-Suburban League teams, each of which features teams hoping to be playing on the final week of the season.
at ConantTop 4 seeds (in order): St. Charles North (14-3-2), Conant (12-4-2), St. Charles East (12-4-4), Geneva (12-4-2).
Lowdown: If Conant meets its long-time postseason nemisis St. Charles North in the near future, the rematch of the Cougars' early season victory over the top seed will mean much more this time around. Jason Franco's club has been particularly sharp of late, drawing with and then defeating highly rated Buffalo Grove in two consecutive late-season matches while earning second place honors in the MSL West behind eventual conference champ Barrington. "Things have gone really well for us of late, we've defended well, and created chances, especially against Buffalo Grove," said Cougars coach Jason Franco. Conant tradionally been a stingy bunch ever since the former St. Charles standout took over, and now, with the quartet of Leah Celarek, Emily Mazurek, Bianca Madonia and Sidney O'Keeffe more lively than ever, the attack is up and running for the state series.
It's not an exaggeration to say Bartlett is reliant on the Marquette-bound Kendra Videckis (17 goals), and while Franco is wary of the Hawks big forward, he knows Wheaton North and Geneva also stand in the way of a date with the North Stars for the sectional title. "It's an intriguing group to say the least," said Franco. "Fremd (7-10-1) will be tough for (St. Charles) North in a regional final because of their aggressive, direct style, but Geneva is a very disciplined, athletic side, should we play them in a sectional semifinal. If it all plays out, we'll obviously be very happy, but it's all about how you match up with your opponent on that day, and if you can get a few things to break your way in order to beat them. If we play the way we did against Buffalo Grove in our season finale, we'll be right in the mix."
at Glenbrook SouthTop 4 seeds: New Trier (22-1-2), Loyola (19-2-1), Evanston (17-5-0), Maine South (10-9-1). Lowdown: Since winning the PepsiCo Showdown three weeks ago, New Trier was considered one of the favorites to advance into the last four of the 3A state tournament. Of course, the Trevians have rival Loyola to go through if they hope to be playing on the final weekend of the season. The two have regularly taken turns dashing the hopes of the other during the postseason. Last year the Ramblers sent their neighbors home after a 1-0 triumph in the sectional finals, and this season New Trier eliminated its rival with a 1-0 victory in the semifinals of the PepsiCo. Two young and still growing clubs from the area, Maine West and Leyden, are both here as well, and the experience each will gain hopefully fuels them forward over the next few seasons. One word of caution to the favorites -- keep an eye on Evanston. The Wildkits opened the spring with a 11-1-0, and would like nothing more to send their a North shore rival reeling.
at LibertyvilleTop 4 seeds: Buffalo Grove (19-2-3), Barrington (14-3-1), Lake Zurich (15-2-1), Hersey (16-5-1).
Lowdown: This venue is second only to the Naperville North sectional in depth of talent, led by the top seeds from the MSL, Buffalo Grove and Barrington, clearly the best clubs in the area all the way through the regular season. "You can't fall asleep on anyone in this group, or your season is going to be over quickly," cautions Barrington coach Ryan Stengren, who led the Fillies to a third consecutive MSL title last week over Hersey. "Buffalo Grove got the No. 1 seed, and they deserved it, but for us, we'll concentrate only what we can control, and that's our opponent."
Buffalo Grove lost Sarah Busse for the season early on, along with two-time all-state MF Skylar Groth (concussion) for two-plus weeks. Bison standout keeper GK Sarah O'Connor joined the injured list recently, but perhaps with a few days off and better health, the best is yet to come for BG. "The playoffs give every team a chance to hit the reset button, us included, and I know are girls are excited, and ready to start their second season," said BG coach Pat Dudle. No. 8 Palatine (11-7-2) and No. 9 Prospect (12-9-1) are in extremely difficult group draws. The two clubs will meet in a regional opener, just a few days after the Pirates won an MSL crossover with Tom Froats' Lady Knights. Then the winner of this match likely meets the No. 1 seed Bison. "We've lost two tough matches with Palatine, but the true test comes this Tuesday, and with an experienced group, they see the importance of taking the postseason one game at a time," says Froats, who took the Bison to the brink earlier before losing a 1-0 heartbreaker. Hersey coach Darren Llewellyn did a lot of amazing things in molding his club into form and earning a place in the MSL Bowl, but he'll need to ready the Huskies for a tough bunch at the Stevenson regional, beginning with the host Patriots, then hopefully the winner of the Glenbrook South-Libertyville match in Friday's regional final. The No. 5 Titans (19-3-1) had had their three losses to Loyola, New Trier and Lyons Township, and coach Seong Ha always has his club well prepared. Should anyone forget Stengrens' warning, the three-time NSC champs from Lake Zurich and terrific midfielder Meaghan Gelinas are as dangerous as any team here.
at Grayslake NorthTop 4 seeds: Lake Forest (11-6-1), St. Viator (10-7-2) , Deerfield (10-9-3), Lakes (13-5-0).
Lowdown: Despite a few slip-ups along the way, St. Viator was still able to earn a piece of the ESCC title with its 1-1 draw with league favorite Benet on the final day of the regular season to jump-start what long-time head coach Mike Taylor is a long, and prosperous postseason. "We've taken our lumps against four or five of the best clubs in the state this spring, but our nonconference schedule has prepared us for the 2A tournament, and that game the other night against Benet shows we can play with just about anybody," said Taylor, as he prepared to take his girls through one of its final training sessions. Taylor points to the emergence of the young backline duo of sophomore Maggie Leazer and freshman Maureen McGrath for his optimism, along with the Lions' continued improvement in set-piece and dead-ball accuracy. "Those two in the back have given us a lot of stability, and have grow together to make that part of the game our strength." The Lions' Achilles' heel has been its ability to find the back of the net, and Taylor knows scoring first will increase the chances of success as this month rolls on, and an opportunity to avenge a 1-0 loss at the hands of Lucy Edwards, Carly Hoke, and the No. 1 Scouts.
-- Mike Garofola