Girls soccer: Schmitz, Johnston captain Northwest all-area team
One reward after multiple remarkable seasons as goalkeepers for their high school girls soccer teams is the co-captaincy of the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area team for St. Viator's Anna Johnston and Barrington's Samantha Schmitz.
Widely regarded as the best in not only in their conferences but also Class 2A and 3A, these seniors both enjoyed a triumphant final three weeks of their high school careers.
Both punctuated their standout prep careers by leading their teams into state championship games -- Johnston and the Lions in Class 2A, Schmitz and the Fillies in 3A.
Johnston helped St. Viator to the runner-up spot, while Schmitz and Barrington repeated as state champs with a second straight win by shootout in the title matchup.
Along the way, the two keepers accounted for a total of 86 shutouts for their teams.
Johnston, honored as the East Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year, was second only to Schmitz in the all-state voting by the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association.
Both made their high school debuts as freshmen, with Johnston in a full-time role and Schmitz as an apprentice to her all-state teammate Hannah Luedtke, who is now starring at Butler University.
Schmitz solidified her lofty status with an extraordinary performance in the state final, in which the Fillies co-captain turned away three spot kicks to inspire the Fillies' dramatic victory over New Trier.
Nearly 365 days earlier, in the same scenario and against the same opponent, Schmitz thrilled an awestruck Fillies crowd with her saving expertise to help her teammates win its first title in program history.
"My teammates did their job with 100 minutes of great soccer, so it was then my job to help us win it," Schmitz said after friends, families and fans watched the Fillies lift the championship trophy on the Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium floor on the campus of North Central College in Naperville.
"Sam is the best keeper in the state," said Barrington coach Ryan Stengren of his three-year starter and four-year veteran. "Most people do not see what she is capable of doing because she is surrounded by quality teammates in front of her, but when you see her make unbelievable saves during practice, and the way she relentlessly trains with our keeper coach, Brian Allen, you realize just how special she is."
"Goalkeeping is both technical and tactical, but all psychological," said Allen, himself an all-state keeper at Rolling Meadows before going on to star at DePaul. "Sam excels in all of these areas, but especially the mental side of the game. She makes so many saves just with her voice, directing her defense, reading potential trouble. And then having the confidence and uncanny ability to handle the biggest of moments and pressure situations, seemingly unfazed in PK situations."
Allen says his prized pupil is a true student of the game, always looking to be better than her last training session or game.
"Coach Allen and Stengren have provided me with the best of two coaching worlds, both on and off the field, to help me be the best player and teammate that I can be," says Schmitz, who along with her longtime friends Michayla Herr and Paige Stevens were once in Stengren's kindergarten gym class. "Twelve years ago, it all began with Stengren, and now we're all like family to him.
"It's amazing how much he cares for each and every one of us, regardless if you start, play half the game -- or not at all. He stays in touch with all of us throughout the year, goes the extra mile in training and preparation, and is a big reason for the success here, and with the pride of being a part of the Barrington soccer program."
Schmitz has been part of an incredible 10-year run in which Stengren has led the Fillies to ten consecutive supersectional appearances, four state trophies, eight straight MSL titles and over 200 victories.
Following her eight-game, 4-shutout freshman season, it was clear the position's future was in good hands at Barrington. An ankle injury suffered during spring break of her sophomore year forced Schmitz to miss some time, but she returned in time to collect 9½ shutouts in just 12 games, allowing just 2 goals in the Fillies' run to a third-place state trophy.
Over the next two years, Schmitz showed the capacity to make gravity-defying saves coupled with total command and consistency in the penalty area.
Schmitz will take her game to Harvard next fall after taking a long look at DePaul, where former teammate and two-time all-area captain Jackie Batliner plays.
"Jackie and the coaching staff both drew me close to DePaul," said Schmitz, "but the combination of academics, along with being able to play, and the Harvard coaching staff, is what led me there."
"Sam will be missed on so many levels beyond her being the player that she was for us," said Stengren.
At St. Viator, coach Mike Taylor knows just how fortunate his program was to have a player of Johnston's caliber.
"First off, Anna is just an unbelievable person," Taylor said. "Her vivacious personality is infectious, plus her ability to lead our ballclub and the defense. And to have the type of presence out there that basically tells our opponents to go ahead and give it your best shot. Knowing she will stop anything that comes at her sets Anna apart from all others."
Although Taylor just completed his ninth season in charge, he's been around the school's soccer programs from the start. That gave him a great view of coach Rory Dames' unmatched five-year run.
"Rory had some great teams,"said Taylor. "They could defend, score, attack, and possess -- they could do it all. But even throughout those three state titles, they never had a keeper like Anna. She is the best in St. Viator history, and I might say she has been the best ever from both programs."
Johnston certainly thrived under Taylor's watch.
"There is no coach around like Taylor," said Johnston, a three-time all-conference pick. "He is the most supportive coach that I've ever had, our relationship is at 110% and it's not just about soccer, it's everything else he does for the St. Viator program and each of his players, so I'll have an everlasting loyalty and appreciation for him.
"There's a lot of tough love with him, but you know he will always be there for you, even after you move on to the next stop in your life."
Johnston tested that two-way commitment when she decided to step away from her high schol team following her freshman year to play for club powerhouse Sockers FC.
"It wasn't easy to do, but that year is so important to players who want to play in college, so the whole recruiting thing and playing at big-time tournaments was something that I needed to do," Johnston said. "He was totally in my corner, and although he wanted me with the team and starting, he also was in full support of my decision. And he's the person who's really helped set me up for success in high school and next season at college."
Johnston's decision to commit to New Hampshire came after some soul searching, knowing she would be 16 hours away from family and friends.
"The coaching staff, college, players and everything about the campus sold me on my first visit," Johnston said. "Plus the fact that I was ready for a change of scenery in order to expose myself to a new lifestyle -- but it still wasn't easy to make that decision."
Johnston has never made it easy for Lions opponents. She was a key in a great team record that can never be broken: St. Viator didn't allow a single goal to its ESCC foes this season.
Johnston is a modern day sweeper-keeper thanks to great foot skills and strong right foot, which is used to build the attack. Johnston also takes many long range free kicks, which led to a 4-goal, 3-assist season this spring.
Time after time this spring, she delivered one command performance after another, highlighted by organizational and communication excellence, amazing ground-to-air ability and fearless play in the box.
Johnston saved two PKs this season, four attempts in shootout and saved the day with uncanny saves in the regional final with Deerfield and the sectional semifinal against Wauconda to pave the way to a state tournament appearance.
"After we lost our state final game with St. Francis, Anna brought her teammates to the touchline to applaud our fans for their support, and to make sure to appreciate the moment they were all in," said Taylor. "You have to admire and appreciate the effect she had on her teammates, our program and the sport, because those type of kids do not come along very often."