Girls soccer: Scouting Barrington in the Class 3A semifinals
Girls soccer / Scouting the Class 3A semifinals
When: Today and Saturday
Where: North Central College, Naperville
Neuqua Valley (18-3-2) vs. Collinsville (21-3-1), 5 p.m.Background: Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Moreau brings the Wildcats here for the third time in program history and for the first time since 2005, when Neuqua Valley won the title by defeating New Trier 6-3 to finish with a 27-2-1 record. The Wildcats' previous appearance came in 2003. Collinsville registered its third consecutive shutout of the postseason and 16th of the spring in the supersectional. This is their deepest playoff run since 2002, when they lost 4-0 to eventual state champion Evanston in the quarterfinals in the two-class format. It's the ninth visit to the tournament for the Kahoks; their best finish is fourth place in 1988.
Lowdown: Rich tradition aside, the Wildcats were almost an afterthought prior to the start of the state tournament as they missed out on a top sectional seed behind the likes of Naperville North, Plainfield North, Waubonsie Valley and Benet Academy.
However, with a little help from Metea Valley, which stunned both Plainfield North and Waubonsie in the regionals, the Wildcats took advantage of their good fortune to go methodically outs Benet Academy, then Naperville North and Metea Valley at the sectional before defeating Hinsdale Central 2-0 in Tuesday's supersectional round. Collinsville is hoping to repeat the success of downstate rival Granite City, which won a state title in 2011.
The Wildcats have not shied away from the competition this spring, playing virtually all the high-profile clubs in the northern half of the state -- including Naperville North twice, and Barrington, against whom they drew 1-1 in the season opener for both teams. Collinsville arrives ranked as the No. 5-ranked team in the soccer-rich St. Louis area, with one of its 3 defeats coming against No. 4 Webster Grove (Mo.)
Barrington (21-1-4) vs. New Trier (25-1-1), 7 p.m.Background: The Fillies makes their sixth visit to the state tournament. It's the second for coach Ryan Stengren, who guided his team to a third-place trophy in 2013 for the second trophy finish for the program (Scott Steib, now in charge of Barrington's boys program, earned a second-place finish in the 2006 season).
The Trevians boast an impressive state tournament resume under coach Jim Burnside which includes a 17-4 record in seven previous finals efforts. New Trier's championship last season was the program's fourth.
Who to watch: Barrington: Jenna Szczesny (Sr, F, 37g, 9a), Hannah Luedtke (Sr, GK, 0.33), Ann Marie Niro (Sr, MF, 7a), Megan Fox (Sr, MF), Kelsey Muniz (Sr, MF, 5g, 7a), Jackie Batliner (So, D, 5g, 6a), Haley Tausend (So, D), Kayla Keck (So, D). New Trier: Kelly Maday (Jr, F, 20g, 27a), Bina Saipi (Jr, MF, 9g, 11a), Maggie Armstrong (Sr, MF, 7g, 10a), Jackie Welch (Jr, D, 6g, 6a), Dani Kaufman (Jr, GK, 0.39), Natalie Laser (So, F, 13g, 5a), Adena Kerzner (Sr, MF).
Lowdown: Both clubs were favored at the beginning of the season to eventually still be playing at this point. But only after finally securing their spots did Stengren and Burnside fully exhale.
"The girls never took anything for granted, and they truly played one match at a time, which I feel was one of their greatest attributes this year," said Stengren.
"Every team we've played this season would like nothing more to beat the defending state champs," said Burnside, "so they all bring their 'A' game when facing us, and that's why I am so proud of this team for taking on that type of challenge each time out in order to get back to the state tournament."
This semifinal will be a tricky test for both teams, as they've conceded few goals owing to stingy backlines, strong work in goal and players who do not shirk their defensive responsibilities.
Behind the likes of Szczesny, Luedtke, Niro, Fox and others, the Fillies have consistently made their mark against top competition.
"We always feels playing a tough tournament and weekend schedule helps prepare you for getting here, and if you're fortunate enough to do so, then you should be ready for just about everything," said Stengren.
Fans will have to chance to see two of the premier scoring stars in the state in Szczesny and Maday, who have combined for 57 goals and 36 assists this season.
Both backlines are quick to the ball and aggressive in the tackle, and both teams have all-state keepers (Luedtke and Kaufman) who adept at protecting the box and also have first-class shot-stopping skills.
After missing several matches in the early going due to an illness, Ann Marie Niro, who will play next fall at Notre Dame, has helped bring the Fillies' attack together with wonderful distribution and inch-perfect passes. With the added skill of four-year veteran Megan Fox, midfield play has been a team strength all season for the four-time Mid-Suburban League champs.
The Trevians strong at midfield as well, with Bina Saipi at the controls and Maggie Armstrong providing size, strength and 50-50 superiority to help her club control the most important place on the pitch.
Both teams possess deep, quick and battle-tested benches, and neither coach hesitates to use those players.
"Barrington is a very good team, and so are we. That supersectional last year with them felt like the state final -- and I expect that same type of game on Friday," said Burnside.
They said it:
Ryan Stengren (Barrington, 152-36-16, 8th year) -- "This is a team that I can honestly say I enjoy seeing and coaching each and every day. There's no drama, no ups and downs, they can just out and train and play. They way they approach each day is something to marvel at, in that they just go about their work like professionals, always trying to improve and get better, but all the time getting along and accepting each other as friends, then teammates. I'm thrilled that I can coach them right up until their final day together as a team, and I am looking forward to this weekend and will be proud of all of them, regardless of the result."
Jim Burnside (New Trier, 432-67-28, 19th year) -- "We have a great group of players who get along very well and are so easy to coach. So that makes my job a lot easier, and it makes for an atmosphere which is always positive and upbeat. We came back from winning the state title last year with many of the same girls from that roster, but not a one of them took anything for granted this spring, and they have just come out from day one knowing the have to work just as hard as last year. Because this year, everyone is coming after you with each game we play."
-- Mike Garofola