Girls soccer: Scouting the Mid-Suburban West
The Mid-Suburban League girls soccer season begins in earnest again after a 2018 campaign which was dominated by eventual league and state champion Barrington.
The Fillies carried the league flag proudly in the postseason, beating a pair of nationally ranked opponents to win their second consecutive state title, and second straight in dramatic shootout fashion.
While nobody expects the Fillies to come anywhere close to their near perfect season of a year ago, coach Ryan Stengren's club still should be considered one of the favorites, despite the loss of top-flight all-state forward Ashley Prell to an ACL injury during the offseason.
Here is a closer look at the MSL West. The MSL East along with St. Viator and Leyden will be previewed in Saturday's editions of the Daily Herald.
Having sent records tumbling last season, Stengren's talented Fillies look well placed to make a serious run at an unprecedented eighth consecutive MSL title, and much more when the postseason begins.
However, despite returning all of its back line from a stingy defensive unit, and nearly all of its starting lineup named in the state final match against New Trier, it's still a new year and a new team, according to Stengren.
"No doubt, last year was one that will always be one to remember, but as we've reminded this group, last year is over, and the focus is now on the 2019 season," said Stengren, now in his 12th season with an overall record of 223-43-19.
Stengren will need to replace brilliant players, beginning with state tournament hero Samantha Schmitz, his all-state keeper now playing at Harvard.
Four-year MF starter Michayla Herr, who played at Wisconsin last fall and, of course, the aforementioned Prell and her 21 goals,
The Fillies will build around their all-area defenders Madi Rosen and Juliana Moreno and the terrific duo of Christian Batliner and Kate McGreevy, all part of a unit that conceded just 14 goals on the season.
"We have a terrific group of girls with us, who have come in and shown to have a high work rate and work ethic so we know they won't lack for effort and desire," said Stengren. "It's a team that will evolve in time and may go through a few hiccups along the way, which will likely be on me as we change and sort things out along the way.
"But Conant and Fremd will both be very strong this spring, so we know we'll have to be at our best each time out."
Conant coach Jason Franco, along with the rest of the MSL West, have been chasing perennial state and MSL power Barrington for the last seven seasons but it appears as if his club has the pieces in place to make a serious run at its longtime rival this year.
"With a solid core returning, plus the influx of some talented new players back from club soccer, expectations around here are high with the 2019 season about to begin," admits Franco, who is drawing close to 200 victories in his career.
"Stephanie Mazurek (22 goals) and Jessica Smeltzer (12) will be a dangerous duo up top, while Neida Ocampo, who is gifted and experienced, will be joined by club players Farrah Simpson and Maddie Celarek to give us a talented group in the middle of the park," Franco said.
Franco suggests his all-area, all sectional junior, Delaney Hoye, paired alongside Maddie Kuffel, gives the Cougars one of the best center-back combos in the league, while budding star Juliana Madonia is on the outside to lend a hand in front of a new keeper who takes over for the four-year starter Taylor Cyr.
Back to the aforementioned Mazurek.
The three-time all-area forward earned all-state honors a year ago and it's her dynamic high impact game that makes her one of the best at her position in the state.
The 2018 MSL West Player of the Year has 38 goals and 22 assists in her career thus far.
With Fremd and coach Steve Keller, it has always begun with building from the back.
Two years ago it was his all-state keeper Kelsie Stone with the ultra-talented Julie Szylko as his center-back.
Last year, senior Marta Cholewa was one of the best backs stationed in front of then-sophomore keeper Jenny Norris.
The return of Norris means the Vikings once again will be airtight, only now Keller will look for another to anchor an always proud defensive formation.
Lauren Burk just may be the player chosen after serving as both a forward and midfielder during her first two seasons with the varsity.
When Burk, Norris and her teammates met Stevenson in their regional final last May, Keller would list seven sophomores and one freshman in his starting lineup, which following the Vikings' 2-0 loss brought this comment from Keller:
"Our youth would show at times, but it also bodes well for the future if the players continue to work hard during the offseason."
All of those in that regional final are back, as well as three key additions from club, who Keller will likely deploy in the middle or up top to hopefully add the type of firepower needed to rival that of Barrington and Conant.
"With the return of so many players from a year ago, coupled with a few back from club, our depth will give us the type of solid overall team that should make us a very competitive team," Keller said.
Hoffman Estates soccer has enjoyed a rebirth of sorts after the arrival of coach Jeff Bird three years ago, and despite collecting just six wins and the loss of a half-dozens players, Bird feels his Hawks have the chance to soar in 2019.
"With (15) players returning, all with varsity experience, there's a great base to build for a strong and exciting season for us," says Bird. "While we lost two players who tallied a third of our goals, there's plenty of talent back who are eager to take full advantage of the opportunities before them."
Bird feels sophomore Avery Panek, who led the club in assists, is one of those ready to step forward as are seniors Alysa DuPart and Kati Krogstad, who will be asked to inject their influence into the Hawks' attack.
Christina Salerno, Payton Badziong and Cassidy Ryan will be responsible to keep things tight along the back while freshman Paige Schneider, an experienced club keeper, takes over at this key spot in the Hawks' lineup. Sophomore Mia Eberman makes her prep debut after honing her skills previously at the high profile Eclipse soccer club.
Palatine's Willie Filian, the dean of MSL coaches along with counterpart Greg Charvat (Schaumburg), is back for his 27th season, and with it has several questions to answer in the early going.
"We should be competitive with many returning (experienced) players, particularly along the back and between the sticks but we're wondering where the scoring will come from with both Sarah (Clancy) and Anja Jacobsen moving on to college," said Filian, who is closing in on 300 career victories, and is nearing 400 on the boys side at Palatine.
Clancy (playing at Indiana State) will be nearly impossible to replace for the Pirates.
The four-year central midfielder, and three-time all-area star, was everything in the middle of the park for Filian as her pace, work rate and work ethic made her one of the best in the business at her position.
The Pirates return eight players from a year ago, in addition to junior Brianna Curlyo, who suffered a season-ending injury in the season-opening tournament at Carmel.
That 'take anyone on' approach worked well last spring for Schaumburg, which gave most clubs trouble with that style which nearly led to a top-half finish for the Saxons.
"This year we have a nice mix of youth and experience that are working hard during our training sessions, and it's their strong work ethic that we hope to be competitive all throughout the season," says Charvat, who will lean on his senior midfield trio of Al Schaar (7 g, 10 a), Michelle Candiotti and Bri Dietz to provide distribution, organization, scoring and pace to the Saxons' attack.
The Saxons will miss their leading scorer and three-sport star Emma Aguilar, who moved on to play at Aurora University after collecting all-MSL, all-sectional and all-area honors last season.
Veteran keeper Livvy Masi returns, as do 11 others to help seven newcomers make their varsity debut.