Glenbrook North's Riley Philbin earns Gatorade Illinois girls soccer player of the year

  • Glenbrook South's Heather Sundstrom, left, passes as Glenbrook North's Riley Philbin makes contact during a soccer game in Glenview.

    Glenbrook South's Heather Sundstrom, left, passes as Glenbrook North's Riley Philbin makes contact during a soccer game in Glenview. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Flanked by her parents, Tom and Kristy, Riley Philbin signs her national letter of intent to the University of Wisconsin on Nov. 12, 2020, at Glenbrook North.

    Flanked by her parents, Tom and Kristy, Riley Philbin signs her national letter of intent to the University of Wisconsin on Nov. 12, 2020, at Glenbrook North. COURTESY OF GLENBROOK NORTH

 
 
Updated 7/8/2021 10:43 AM

Riley Philbin had one chance to play soccer at Glenbrook North. She made the most of it.

A club player her freshman and sophomore years, denied by COVID as a junior, the Wisconsin-bound forward enjoyed a senior season with her high school friends on the same field her parents played on 30 years ago.

 

What's more, the 5-foot-7 forward established a new program record with 23 goals to go with 9 assists, was voted a team captain and team MVP by her teammates, and helped the Spartans to a 14-2-3 record and sectional semifinal appearance.

It equaled a rewarding senior spring that, on June 30, was capped by the announcement that Philbin was named the 2020-21 Gatorade Illinois girls soccer player of the year, a first for the Glenbrook North girls soccer program.

Spartans coach Anthony Valsamis, visiting family in the town of Poros on the Greek island of Kefalonia, delivered the good news via a 4 a.m. text message, Poros being 8 hours ahead.

Riley's parents, Tom and Kristy, let their daughter sleep till about 6 a.m. before barging in.

"They were super-happy, super-proud of me," Riley said.

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"I honestly didn't know much about the Gatorade award before this," she said, though she did know the prior Illinois recipient, New Trier's Emma Weaver, a two-time winner, most recently named to the Big East All-Freshman Team as a Villanova midfielder.

In addition to receiving a Gatorade player of the year equipment bag and water bottle, the honor allows Philbin to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of her choice. Honorees' grants have totaled more than $2.7 million since the program started, the organization stated.

It acknowledged not only Philbin's soccer skills, but also her weighted 4.06 grade-point average and her volunteerism for Feed My Starving Children and as a youth soccer coach.

"It means a lot to me. I'm extremely thankful for it. I just couldn't have done it without my coaches and teammates. During the season, my coaches pushed me so much," Philbin said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That includes her uncle, Paul Vignocchi, a Glenbrook North girls assistant coach and the boys varsity coach. He's the brother of Riley's mother, Kristy, a 1990 graduate and former Spartans soccer player. Tom Philbin, Class of 1989, played football and ran track.

"It was special to play for (Vignocchi) this year," Riley said. "It was fun. I told him this, but I wanted to make him proud every game."

Playing at William Lutz Stadium was a big draw for her. Once she got her college situation squared away and switched club teams to Eclipse North from FC United's Development Academy, which plays year-round, she was able to revisit her parents' stamping grounds.

"They played on that field, so I grew up wanting to play on the same field my parents did and wearing the same green Spartan colors," she said.

"It really meant a lot. Everyone had talked about how much fun it was and the team culture, and I didn't really understand it."

Her parents obviously loved it.

"To get the opportunity to see Riley play on the same field that both Kristy and I played on, albeit nowhere near her level, was about as much fun as you can have with your children's athletics," Tom Philbin said.

They saw a player who, as the Gatorade people pointed out in their description, scored multiple goals in eight games, with three hat tricks. Voted as her team's most valuable offensive player, Riley earned all-state honors by the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association.

"She's strong both with the ball at her feet and even when she's off the ball. She attracts the defense toward her," said Valsamis, who naturally wished he'd had Philbin on the squad four years alongside fellow graduating seniors Logan Leiter, Sophia Sparacio and Yale-bound goalkeeper Annie Welch.

"I felt like she's a contender for All-America," Valsamis said.

In a condensed, intense season featuring two rounds of tough Central Suburban League South opponents, the coach recalled Philbin playing through a bloodied nose, tissue jammed up it to stop the flow, while wearing a mask in a 2-2 tie May 7 against Evanston.

He remembered Philbin's game-winning free kick April 24 in a 2-1 win over Mundelein. That is why Valsamis asked former Glenbrook South girls and boys coach Seong Ha, now at Mundelein, to provide Gatorade with a testimonial.

"Riley is a phenomenal talent, simply put. She is dynamic in many respects and can be an absolute game-changer," Ha stated.

"She can post up as a target player while setting up others, turning on a dime for a blistering shot, or beat you off the dribble, dynamically taking on players through a maze for a quality finish."

Philbin recalled when she set the program goals record on May 19 in a 5-1 win over Glenbrook South.

"It was special," she said. "I want to say I did it on senior night, which also was my 18th birthday. I didn't know what the record was, they never told me. I don't think they wanted it to get in my head."

And, anyway, there may not have been room in there for personal glory, given Valsamis said Philbin is probably the hardest-working player he's seen.

The goals record, and the Gatorade award, was much-appreciated gravy.

"I feel super-grateful that I got the opportunity to play for my high school this year and that it was recognized," Philbin said. "I worked really hard this season, and I just feel super-grateful and thankful that they acknowledged my hard work and my team's hard work."

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