Girls soccer: Scouting the postseason, Northwest
Girls soccer: Postseason scouting, Northwest
A lot is made of the effect of the Monday-through- Saturday drain of the regular season on soccer clubs all around the area. And to be sure, there's a mental and physical drain on tired legs down the home stretch. But every spring when the state series comes around, there's always that sudden burst of energy which makes for an exciting thrill-ride during these next few weeks.
On Tuesday things start in earnest for the Class 2A and 3A teams; here's a look at what to expect as the postseason begins to unwind.
Class 3A Bartlett sectionalTop seeds (in order): St. Charles North (16-3-1), St. Charles East (15-3-0), Geneva (12-5-2), Batavia (14-4-1).
Advancement: Sectional champion advances to New Trier supersectional to play the Maine South sectional champion.
The lowdown: There isn't much that separates rivals St. Charles North and East, except a 2-0 victory for the North Stars over East early in the season. The North Stars put together a run of six straight away victories to close out their regular season, defending those opponents with 26 goals, while allowing just 2 and getting key wins over Geneva (3-1) and Batavia (2-0).
"I've heard from several people that (East) can look very good, so I would be shocked if they don't advance to the final," said Conant coach Jason Franco, who feels this sectional is among the best in the state in terms of depth. "And for us, if we can get past a very good side from Glenbard West in our regional, it then sets up our annual showdown with North."
"We might not have the top four that (the Maine South sectional) has, but after North and East, you have Geneva and Batavia, plus Wheaton Warrenville South (13-6-3), which has come on strong of late, plus Bartlett (16-5-1) and Wheaton North (8-8-2), who can each hang with the top dogs."
Franco's club defeated the North Stars (2-1) in a sectional final last spring to end the brilliant run of Ruth Vostal, who retired from coaching after the season.
"North is very athletic, and has two special players with Gia Wahlberg (17g) and Hailey Rydberg (13a), so we'll do our best to contain them, if possible," said Franco. "But more importantly, should we reach that game, we'll have to find quality in our counter attack. If we hold up defensively and be opportunistic, we could get the result we desire."
Class 3A Maine South sectionalTop seeds: New Trier (16-3-1), Loyola (16-3-4), Evanston (15-3-2), Glenbrook South (18-2-2).
* sectional champion advances to New Trier super-sectional to play Bartlett sectional champion.
The lowdown: This is the 2016 version of the group of granite, a sectional loaded with several subplots and conflicting narratives.
The reigning state champion Trevians have been without Kelly Maday for quite some time, but the absence of the top player in the state hasn't really slowed the club so much has given others the chance to state their case.
New Trier has been a thorn in the side of Loyola in recent years, defeating the Ramblers twice in the last two seasons in the sectional final. Loyola, meanwhile, has dashed the hopes of Evanston, beating the Wildkits in sectional semifinal matches.
This year, though, the Wildkits maybe ready to rain on the parade of both of their sectional rivals thanks to a superb first 11, plus a recent win over New Trier as well as a 0-0 draw against Loyola early on.
Sitting at the No. 4 seed is Glenbrook South, which quietly has built up a full head of steam with senior Olivia Peters powering the Titans, who are on a 10-0- while outscoring their opponents 43-5. The second-leading scorer in program history, Peters leads the way with 24 goals thus far.
This dazzling top four makes it a tough challenge for No. 9 seed Maine West (8-8-1) as well as No. 11 Elk Grove.
The Grens open against No. 5 Maine South (13-5-4) in a rematch of a 2-1 result in favor of the Hawks in the season opener for both clubs. Maine West is on course to meet Loyola in the regional final should it get past league rival and No. 7 seed Glenbrook North.
The Warriors have closed strong, with four wins in their last five matches, and have been stingy during that time, conceding just 4 goals.
Class 3A Palatine sectionalTop seeds: Barrington (16-2-1), Libertyville (10-4-2), Prospect (11-7-4), Carmel (11-2-4).
Advancement: Sectional champion advances to Barrington supersectional to play Streamwood sectional champion.
The lowdown: After win MSL Soccer Bowl last week for a fifth consecutive time, most in this sectional agree that Barrington has the best chance of all to advance. However, even after validating its top sectional seed with an undefeated run through the MSL without allowing a goal, Fillies coach Ryan Stengren is not taking anything for granted as regional play begins. "Whenver you have potential matches with Palatine, Fremd, Lake Zurich or Carmel ahead of you before you reach the supers, it's clear to me that we have a tough draw, and obviously a lot of work ahead of us," said Stengren, whose team will meet either MSL rival Palatine (9-7-1) or NSC champ Stevenson (9-6-1).
Another good matchup is at Carmel, where the host Corsairs (11-2-4) must be wary of No. 13 Hersey (7-13-1). The Huskies would like nothing more than to avenge a 2-0 season-opening defeat.
Yet another matchup Stengren will keep an eye on is No. 5 Lake Zurich (11-4-3) against No. 10 Fremd (8-7-3). Though the Vikings surely start as underdogs, they have an all-state keeper candidate in Kelsey Stone, plus a veteran coach in Steve Keller whose teams routinely play their best soccer at this time of year.
"You never want to play an opponent from your conference when the games mean so much more, but that doesn't mean playing someone like Stevenson or Lake Zurich is any easier, because we're the team that everyone is after this time of the year," said Stengren.
No. 3 seed Prospect was fully in control of its own fate as it neared its first MSL Soccer Bowl appearance in years, but three losses in four matches at the beginning of May made them spectators instead as they watched division rival Buffalo Grove instead of themselves take center stage. That might only fuel the Knights in the sectional. "If there's one thing we can take away from this past regular season, it's that a solid defense and good goalkeeping keeps you in every match, and from last year to this year we have improved dramatically in both areas," said Prospect coach Tom Froats.
Last season Froats' team conceded 50 plus goals, then watched his a complete turnaround this season with his backline and all-MSL keeper Mehgan Rickett (10 shutouts) allowing just 20 this spring.
"Every team in our sectional wants the same thing, so to win and advance you have to bring your very best to each and every match, and that's what our plan will be from our very first game of the regionals," Froats said.
Prospect opens against Zion-Benton at Highland Park, with a date with either the host Giants or No. 6 Warren (12-8-2) in the finals on Saturday afternoon.
Class 3A Streamwood sectionalOutlook: The winner here advances to play the Palatine sectional champ, and if it's Huntley (17-3-2) it would be the Red Raiders' third sectional triumph in as many years.
Dundee-Crown coach Sebastian Falinski says the Red Raiders are clearly the team to beat here.
"Huntley has some very talented players and is well-coached and very disciplined in the execution of their game plan," said Falinski, who was a brilliant defender at Conant under coach Tony Kees.
Huntley coach Kris Grabner cautions that Crystal Lake South, which beat Huntley 3-1, is actually the team to beat. "We were given the No. 1 seed, then South (14-5-0) beat us the following week," said Grabner. "And the way they played that day, and with how athletic they are, that makes them the favorites, in my opinion."
Class 2A Grayslake North sectionalTop seeds (in order): Deerfield (16-6-1) Wauconda (12-2-1), Lake Forest (9-7-1), Prairie Ridge (13-6-2).
Advancement: The sectional champion advances to Concordia College supersectional to play the Fenton sectional champion.
The lowdown: Imagine what the coaching counterparts of Mike Taylor had to say when they saw that his highly successful St. Viator soccer club was given the No. 9 seed at this venue.
"To be honest, it's an absolute joke that Mike's team is the (No. 9 seed) -- there are coaches in this sectional that ranked them 14th, and despite their record, just look at the big-time schedule they play," said Rich Grady, coach of top seed Deerfield, which recently beat Evanston in PK's to capture the Central Suburban League trophy. (Taylor) should not be afraid of playing anyone when you look at their nonconference schedule. This is a very competitive sectional, and we know how important it is to start the tournament strong and win the close games in the playoffs."
The Warriors who have conceded just 11 goals in their 23 games, thanks in part to a sturdy, well-organized backline which excels in front of goalkeeper Sari Eisen, who turned around three spot-kicks in that win over Evanston.
The Lions have had their share of ups and downs in a season which saw a young, inexperienced club finish at 5-10-2 and out of the ESCC race for the first time in ages.
"There have been times when we've played the way that I know that we can," said Taylor. "Then other times, when we give up a soft goal or our work rate isn't what we want, or we can't find a way to put the ball into the back of the net. But we've made a few changes of late, and we think we have the right formation to take advantage of those changes. So if we can get a good start this week, there's no reason why we can't get into that sectional final."
The Lions will be tested immediately against a good Antioch (10-6-2) team in its regional opener, with the winner having Deerfield up next. "Parity is the word in this sectional this season," said Kevin Kullby of Lakes (8-7-3). "In the past, the top four teams up here have clearly been the best of this sectional. But this year, I would be surprised if a few of the top 5-6 seeds end up going out early."
-- Mike Garofola