Girls soccer: Keller, Stengren join 300 club
Perhaps it was only fitting that two of the best soccer coaches in the state, Steve Keller at Fremd and Barrington's Ryan Stengren, each won their 300th game on the same night last week.
Keller would do so after his club beat Hoffman Estates 3-1 last Wednesday, while Stengren did so at Rolling Meadows during a 4-0 victory.
The two super clubs would end the regular season atop the MSL West with near perfect 10-0-1 records -- with Barrington advancing into the 33rd annual MSL Soccer Cup against Hersey by virtue of the fourth criteria in the tiebreaking protocol.
"It honestly feels just like yesterday when I became head coach here at Fremd, but it's been a great run since taking over for Don Balk," said Keller, who has led the Vikings to three state tournament appearances, four MSL Soccer Cup finals, and 11 regional titles, among other countless honors.
Keller, who says his state runner-up seasons of 2007 and 2009, are two of his memorable of his career, while pointing to his longtime friend, assistant, Hall-of-Famer Gerardo Pagnani as someone who has provided the greatest influence during his time in charge.
"(Gerardo) has been like a second father to me. He gave me the chance to get my foot in the door here at Fremd, and has mentored along the way, while providing advice, support, and guidance," says Keller, who with Greg Charvat (Schaumburg) and Tom Froats at Prospect retiring moves into being the coaching dean of the MSL.
"I've known Steve for over 30 years. (We) played together briefly in the early years of the Sports Club, that eventually became the Chicago Magic. We worked camps together, and have been coaching against each other during the boys season, and I've seen the way he makes a difference as an educator every day, making his players better, while making the game of soccer so much better," says Mike Wiggins, who has over 400 career victories himself, and is one of the best in the business at Hinsdale Central, who was a volunteer assistant in the fall of 1991 under Pagnani.
Stengren, who starred at Hersey, then Akron University, and was a club teammate of Brian McBride, made an immediate imprint on Barrington Fillies soccer. In just his third season he led his club to a 1-0 victory over Hersey in the MSL Soccer Cup, his first of 11 and the first of seven state trophies, beginning with his first in 2013 for third place.
Since then, Stengren has watched his club lift the 3A state trophy in back-to-back seasons (2017, 2018) and has brought home a pair of second place trophies in 2019 and 2022.
"Winning our first state championship in program history is the one that I'll remember forever. But to be honest, it's all of the players that have through our program that is something I value more than anything else," says Stengren, who, along with Keller's club, were anointed the No. 1 seed in their respective sectionals.
"We've had so many talented student-athletes here at Barrington. I have been extremely fortunate in that way, and I hope that I've made their time (here) something they will remember for a long time," continued Stengren, who in his 16th season has amassed a sparkling 302-51-23 overall record, which includes a 30-0-2 record during the last these last three seasons, with Brooke Brown and Ellie Sanchez both in starring roles.
"I've played for a number of great coaches, but (Stengren) has undoubtedly been the best of all. His approach in terms of preparation is unmatched, and he has built a culture at Barrington that even former players remain a part of," says Brown, who will play in the Ivy League at Cornell University, while Sanchez does the same at North Dakota State University.
"Ryan's attention to detail related to tactics and positional responsibilities for every player is second to none, and nobody works as hard as Ryan preparing and scouting every opponent with the knowledge that doing so just might give his team even the slightest advantage," says Scott Steib, who runs the boys program, where Stengren is one of his assistants, while also freshman coach.
Just as the MSL West division was settled on the final day of the regular season, so did the Northern Lake County Conference (NLCC) in an enthralling fight to the finish between Lakes Community, Grayslake Central and Wauconda.
To provide a brief background on how these three clubs would vie for the league title last Thursday night, back-to-back victories by Lakes over Wauconda, then Central put the Eagles in control with a 5-0-1 record in advance of its match with Grayslake North, with Wauconda and Central sitting at 5-1-0.
However, when Arissa Vettraino's double led Grayslake North past Lakes (3-0) the race for the NLCC opened things up -- making the Grayslake Central-Wauconda season finale so much more important.
"Thanks to our rival (Grayslake) North, we now had the chance at a conference title, so we knew what we had to do against Wauconda," said Central junior Sara Armstrong, who was a key figure in the Rams' 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs.
The win would give the Rams a share of their first NLCC title along with Lakes, who would defeat North Chicago and finish with the same 6-1-0 record as the Rams.
Lakes coach Kevin Kullby, in his 18th year in charge of both the girls and boys program, is nearing 400 career combined victories.
This is the first NLCC championship in program history of Kullby, who garnered four others when the Prairie Division was part of the North Suburban Conference.
For the Rams, it was the first time in 10 seasons they would defeat Wauconda, who has been nearly untouchable in the NLCC -- winning five consecutive league and regional titles aside from the 2020 COVID year.