Girls soccer: Vukas lifts Benet over Oswego in Naperville invite

Sophomore forward Ivana Vukas can create havoc even against the best defenses.

“It’s her speed and her skill level on the ball,” Benet coach Gerard Oconer said. “Every time she gets the ball you kind of hold your breath because you know that there’s a chance she is going to be able to score.”

Vukas did it again Friday, scoring off a beautiful feed from Johnna Caliendo at the 28:20 mark of the first half against Oswego. The goal turned out to be difference as the Redwings held on for a 1-0 win in a Naperville Invitational game held at Hinsdale Central.

It was the seventh straight win for Benet (8-2-1), which won Group A with a 2-0 record to advance to the tournament quarterfinals on April 25. It is just the second time the Redwings, who beat Naperville Central 2-1 in their tournament opener, have qualified for the Naperville Invitational quarterfinals. The other time was in 2019 when they went on to win the Class 2A state championship.

“I think it’s pretty impressive considering we started off the season not so strong,” Vukas said. “This tournament we really stepped it up with our energy and our effort level.”

Vukas is starting to mesh well with teammates like Caliendo, Annie Fitzgerald and Eleanor Mahan, who are becoming efficient at finding her in open spaces with precision lead passes.

One such pass sprung Vukas on a breakaway with 31:10 to go in the first half, but Oswego goalkeeper Kyla Baier made a nice save by punching the ball up in the air and out of the crease.

But Baier, who made six saves in the first half, wasn’t as lucky three minutes later. Caliendo flashed into the box from the left side and appeared to have an open lane to shoot.

Instead, she passed to Vukas, who got in behind and scored on a cutback shot from just outside the right post.

“She slotted the ball on the right side, but I was on the left,” Vukas said. “Then I kind of ran diagonal.

“I took a touch and I kind of took it wide and then I hit it as hard as I could and it went in the net.”

That came as no surprise to Oswego coach Gaspar Arias, who had warned his players about Vukas.

“We were talking about her and how she was going to be making those runs and they were going to play those through balls,” Arias said. “I think the first 15 minutes they were setting the tone.

“They got one goal in and we weren’t ready for the game at that point. But after that I think we figured it out and we started playing our game.”

Indeed, the Panthers (6-3-4) did well defensively and gained more possession in the second half. But they couldn’t get anything past Benet goalkeeper Kate Grubish, who recorded her sixth shutout by making five saves, including a great block on Aubrey Eirich in the first half and diving denials on Jordyn Washington and Gianna Rizzo in the second half.

Oswego’s three losses are all one-goal decisions to three ranked teams – Metea Valley, Hinsdale Central and now Benet.

“We are a pretty young team but I think the girls are playing really well,” Arias said. “We’re proud of the girls. They are improving and getting better.”

So are the Redwings, who have recovered from a 1-2-1 start.

“I’m just super proud of these girls,” Oconer said. “They kind of find different ways to win.

“It might not always be pretty and in a tournament like this that’s exactly what you have to do. You just have to gut it out at times.”

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