Girls soccer: Barrington, Fremd, Conant excel at defending
In girls soccer, defense is where it starts -- and where it ends -- and a first class defense can make or break the starting eleven.
Ever since the arrival of coaches Ryan Stengren, Steve Keller and Jason Franco years ago to their respective clubs at Barrington, Fremd and Conant, each team has been highly successful, thanks in part to their ability to produce consistent, alert and airtight defensive units.
Barrington in particular has been the best of this Mid-Suburban West trio, using brilliant work along the back to reach memorable heights only a few have attained.
"We take a lot of pride in our defending, not only from our back line, but from our midfielders and forwards who create pressure on the ball, force turnovers, and make it difficult for our opponents to possess and move the ball on us," says Stengren.
The numbers prove what Stengren speaks of.
During the past three seasons, the Fillies won back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018, were runners-up a year ago, and have claimed eight consecutive MSL titles.
At this time, the Fillies conceded just 34 goals in 80 games, 13 of which have been in league play.
These dazzling statistics helped the club to an astonishing 71-6-3 at the same time.
Barrington has also been fortunate to have some brilliant players available, most recently Madi Rosen and Christine Batliner, two outside backs who were second to none.
What this dynamic duo provided was to make deep, meaningful runs to add width to their game and for others, while stopping plays, winning 50-50 balls, supply superb service, and so many other things all made possible by the Fillies' central-defender pair of: Juliana Moreno and Kate McGreevy.
"Juliana had an amazing year for us last year, and right now she looks better than ever -- while (McGreevy), who had a breakout year for us alongside Juliana, looks ready to move her game to another level," Stengren said.
The defensive numbers at Fremd deserve extra notice as well, particularly last season when a stingy back line would concede just 12 goals during a 14-5-3 season inspired by its sensational keeper Jennifer Norris and center-back Lauren Burk.
"Defense is tradition here at Fremd. Maybe it's something that is stressed from the very first day by coach Keller and he never lets up all throughout the season," said Norris, who will play next fall at the University of Minnesota at Duluth.
On her way to All-Area, All-State, and All-Midwest honors, Norris registered (14) shutouts on the year and a 0.49 goals against average.
"Jennifer is our last line of defense, and she makes things so much easier for all of us," said Burk, named All-Area a year ago.
The three-year veteran has great powers of anticipation, is fearless in the tackle, has special awareness in and around the area and is the perfect compliment to her teammates alongside her.
"There's a lot of focus on defending in our own end but also all over the field we expect everyone to give maximum effort to defend so we can win the ball back then get something going the other way," says Burk.
When sisters Allie and Liz Prigge return from the Vikings' Class 4A state championship basketball team, the Vikings will be at full strength along the back, and ready to take aim at Barrington.
Delaney Hoye believes with the defensive strength of Conant, coupled with some exciting talent in the middle of the park, her club will have enough to challenge for the top spot along with its longtime rivals.
"We, to, take a lot of pride with the way we defend. It's something we're always working on because we know in the end, it could be the difference in those big games with Barrington and Fremd," said Hoye, a two-time all-area central defender.
"Juliana (Madonia) and I are great friends, so we have that special chemistry that makes it so easy to play alongside each other," continued Hoye.
"Gracie (Rodriguez) began to play in the back late in the season, so the three of us are real comfortable with each other, plus we have a great player back from club (Rachel Kutella) who will make an already strong midfield even better."
Hoye and her back line mates were just as miserly as their division rivals during their 16-3-2 season, allowing only 14 goals with keeper Olivia Messerges claiming 12 shutouts.
Hoye, who lists DePaul, Loyola and Ohio State as potential landing spots next fall, has helped her club collect 26 shutouts during her first three seasons, with a 0.93 goals against average.