Girls soccer: Scouting Buffalo Grove at Barrington the MSL Soccer Bowl

Girls soccer: Scouting the 27th MSL Soccer Bowl

Buffalo Grove (6-7-4) vs. Barrington (15-2-1).Where: Barrington Community Stadium

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

History lesson: The Fillies broke their own record of four consecutive Soccer Bowl appearances set last year by advancing for a fifth time this season.

With its victory over Hersey last year, the Fillies lifted the eighth league championship trophy in program history to give Ryan Stengren his sixth overall, more than any other coach in the history of the MSL. He's enjoying the success that this year's players have achieved.

"This is a very special group in that they get to training and work as hard as any other team I've ever had," said Stengren. "But their focus and ability to stay on task, and their desire to work to get better and be so competitive during those sessions is what sets them apart from others."

Buffalo Grove is here for a third time follwing a three-year drought. The Bison advanced in 2013 and in 2004.

Three seasons ago, the Bison and a star-studded roster featuring several eventual collegiate players lost to the Fillies 2-0 in one of the most entertaining Soccer Bowl contests in recent history.

"We're honored to be playing in the MSL Soccer Bowl," said Buffalo Grove coach Pat Dudle. "It's not an easy game to reach, and there are so many great teams and players who never have the opportunity to be here."

Who to watchBuffalo Grove: Cassie Berman (Sr, GK, 7 shutouts), Gina Bolis (Jr, D, 4a), Dani Bleichman (Sr, D), Georgette Topalis (Jr, F, 6g), Courtney Lee (Jr, MF), Danielle Allaire (Jr, D), Brittany Lee (Jr, D), Alyssa Floro (So, MF), Zoe Robertson (Fr, MF).

Barrington: Jackie Batliner (Jr, D), Haley Tausend (Jr, D), Lauren Pircher (Sr, D), Kayla Keck (Jr, D, 9g), Soph Spinell (Jr, MF, 15a), Anna Brodjian (Jr, MF), Michayla Herr (So, MF), Ellie Stodola (Jr, MF, 8g), Kayla Schutter (Jr, F, 5g, 8a), Maesyn Poidomani (Jr, F, 8g), Samatha Schmitz (So, GK, 0.13).

The lowdownOn Buffalo Grove: The Bison enjoyed one of the most memorable years in program history when Shannon Guercio and Bleichman were freshmen on the 2013 state team which brought home a fourth-place trophy. But with each year since, graduation has claimed one star after another, leaving a very young group remaining. "Early on, we tinkered with lineups and formations," said Dudle. "But when we began league play we settled in to what seems to work best for this team, which has been resilient and has continued to improve each time out." Recent high-level graduations for the Bison includde all-area midfielder Jessica Kovach, all-state striker Sara O'Connor (26 goals) and another four-year player, Sara Busse, who was as versatile and tactically gifted as anyone.

The strength of the MSL East champions this year is along the back line, where each player brings a special set of defensive skills. "Dani helps organize, Danielle Allaire is a fierce (on the ball) defender, and both Brittany (Lee) and Shannon help make it all work with their recovery speed," said Dudle, whose team will be without Guercio tonight. The head coach praised the work of Bolis and Robertson for their work of late, with Bolis, who typically sits in front of the back four, earning high marks for her ability to disrupt and win every type of 50-50 opportunity. Robertson has shown she can distribute and create, while slowing down the opponent in the middle of the park.

The Bison will likely play a defensive posture as long as they can, keeping plenty of numbers behind the ball and looking to counter when possible. In that case, look for Georgette Topalis, a two-year starter who will either run out of the middle or up top, to get opportunities.

On Barrington: Losing five key players is rarely a recipe for success, especially when those losses include a two-time state player of the year, an all-state goalkeeper and all-around standouts such as Ann Marie Niro (now playing at Notre Dame) and three-year veterans Megan Fox and Kelsey Muniz. "You just do not replace a player like Jenna (Szczesny), who was so dangerous that some teams would mark her with three players, in addition to (goalkeeper) Hannah Luedtke, who I think was the absolute best keeper anywhere, plus nearly all of our starting midfield," said Stengren. "But we were fortunate to have several players who learned from those players and who served their apprenticeship under them while getting valuable minutes against high-level competition, and later at the state tournament," Stengren said. "And now it's their turn."

"We lost so many great players," explains Lauren Pircher, a senior and key defender this year, "but we still had a lot of quality players returning - especially along the back line, where the starting defense is back. And that helped stabilize things for the first couple of weeks while sorted it out everywhere else."

Pircher, Haley Tausend, Kayla Keck and Jackie Batliner conceded nothing in the league during the regular season, and have given up just 7 goals all year. That same group has helped initiate the attack and has been effective with service, tackling, winning balls in the air and executing set pieces. Keck has scored 9 goals, and sophomore keeper Samantha Schmitz, who missed nearly ten matches with an ankle injury, has helped to help keep the Fillies sailing right along.

"We knew we would be in good shape in the back, but without a dynamic forward and scorer like Jenna, we needed to change our approach, and now we truly have a team concept when getting forward," Stengren said.

The midfield of Spinnel, Herr, Brodjian and Ellie Stodola have kept the engine running in the middle of the park with their box-to-box play, while the duo of Schutter and Poidomani have scored, created, defended, and done their part to break down the best back lines the MSL has to offer.

Throw in freshman Ashley Prell, who leads the club with 10 goals, and the task to keep this arsenal of weapons under wraps becomes a major chore for the opposition.

They said itPat Dudle (9th season, 113-73-21): "Barrington is solid all over the field, and they proved to be the best in the MSL from start to finish. There is not one player you can key on - they are a true team. We will need to get numbers behind the ball, limit our mistakes, and take advantage of our opportunities and chances."

Ryan Stengren (9th season, 167-39-17): "The thing that we expect is for (BG) to drop 7-8 players behind the ball. And for us, then, it's can we solve that type of tactical approach? If we do, and if we're on the top of our game, then the potential to score becomes more real. And if that occurs, then they have to be less defensive, and that's when the game can open up and be to our advantage."

- Mike Garofola

  Buffalo Grove's Alyssa Floro, at right converging on a ball with Hersey's Taylor Lafeyette, has been among the key players for the MSL East champs this season. Floro's overtime goal against Elk Grove last week propelled the Bison into Wednesday's MSL title game at Barrington. Joe Lewnard/
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