Chart toppers: Best area girls' soccer teams
Coach Joey Gruner has a veteran team that features three players who’ve started for three years, one who has started two years and three others who started a year ago. Most experienced are Wheaton College recruit Sarah VanWingerden (midfielder), Parkland College recruit Catherine McHale (midfielder) and Lauren Longfellow (defender).
VanWingerden is a two-time All-Area first-team selection. Morgan DeHaan (defender) is the only two-year starter after Allison Fritz (forward) was sidelined for the year after injuring a knee in basketball. Referring to the varsity unit, Gruner said, “We have been very pleased with their offseason, student-driven work ethic and willingness to sacrifice personal time, spring break trips, etc. for the benefit of the entire program.” Other Bulldogs with starting experience are Aleyna Brunner (midfielder), Kylie Lenschow (defender) and Paige Roberts (defender).
M-S won’t dwell on players who are unavailable or how the weather has curtailed outdoor practice time. “We will focus on the things that we can control,” Gruner said. “We will focus on player development, team unity and walking off the field after every practice and every contest knowing we gave everything we had to give. We do have a lot of talent and experience returning this season, and if we stay healthy we expect to have several wins at the end of the season.”
St. Thomas More
A squad with 10 seniors and five juniors has set a goal of capturing the school’s first sectional title in the sport. The Sabers are “far and away the most athletic and speedy team I have coached,” coach James Johnson said.
He is challenging his squad with a schedule that includes 13 Class 2A opponents. Offensive catalysts are senior Louisette Lukusa, an All-Area pick last year, and junior Michaela Ward, who led the area in assists (20) in 2013. Senior Katie Kulas is a three-year starter as is junior goalkeeper Lexi Wallen, who has started all 41 matches the past two years while registering 22 shutouts and earning All-Area accolades twice. Kulas hopes to continue her soccer career in college. Three athletes from the state championship girls’ basketball team are playing soccer, including senior Randa Harshbarger for the first time and senior Courtney Wax, who took last year off.
Freshman Eliza Kramer is expected to add another capable scorer to the lineup. “If our team soccer IQ can continue to grow and even partially catch up to our overall team athleticism, we have the opportunity for a special season,” Johnson said. Sixteen of the Sabers’ 27 squad members are letter winners, and seven are returning starters. Other key holdovers are senior Katie Gillette and sophomore Caroline Geubelle.
With two years left in her prep career, junior Maddy Chalifoux is more than halfway to the school’s career scoring mark (83 by Kim Vega). Chalifoux, an All-Area first-team choice as a freshman and sophomore, entered this season with 52 career goals and has already added two more.
“Our team has a lot of athleticism and girls that can do many different roles,” Central coach Mick Galeski said. Chalifoux and senior Suzie Reardanz are the Maroons’ captains. “We have an exciting challenge of replacing some big players from last year, and this means quite a few players are learning to play some new positions,” Galeski said.
Juniors Emica Quigley, Hannah Hart and Claire Redden are among the others who will play major roles. “We have some very creative players and look very dangerous going forward. Our team will have a new-look back line with a few different starters playing in the defense for the first time, and the adjustment has looked great due to their tremendous work rate.”
Coach Hsiung Marler’s squad will look drastically different than a year ago, when eight seniors were on the roster. Many of those graduates were featured players on four successive regional championship teams.
“This will be a new year for us,” Marler said. “There will be a lot of unknowns. A lot of familiar faces graduated, and it will be up to new players to step up and fill those shoes. We’ll be young and hungry and will make the mistakes a lot of young teams do.”
Senior Sara Regan and junior Lindsey Taylor will be looked to for leadership. “We are working hard on keeping the focus, smarts and tough play that has been our hallmark the past few years,” Marler said. Among the promising freshmen is Claire Cowser. The Chargers’ sixth win this season will be the 100th career win for Marler, who is in his ninth year as head coach.
The Tigers are trying to bounce back from a 6-10-1 season and will build around eight athletes who started full time or part time a year ago. The team’s veterans are goalkeeper Kayla Lard, midfielder Ellie England, midfielder Rebecca Hanks, fullback Autum Anders, midfielder Sierra Poor and midfielder Alison Slaughter, as well as Reanna Bear-Brister and Leah Berti, who were part-time starters in 2013.
The Tigers entered the season needing four wins to reach No. 200 in the 19-year history of the program. “We are hoping to be better defensively as well as offensively,” Urbana coach Randy Blackman said. “The girls are working hard, and we hope that pays off with a couple extra wins this year.” England, a fourth-year starter, was an All-Area first-teamer as a junior.
Urbana Uni High
Coach Ben Leff lost 11 seniors from last year’s team, and most of this year’s starters are athletes who will be back next spring. Knox College recruit Jia Curry-Bild is the key senior. She’ll primarily be the goalkeeper but could be used in the field as well.
“This team is really young, but there is a core of solid players, and it bodes well for the future,” Leff said. Freshman center-midfielder Carissa Hwu “has the best foot skills on the team and plays fiery,” Leff said. Junior Carmen Gewirth, a defensive center-midfielder “is far and away the most intense player we have, heart and soul of the team.,” Leff said. “She is everywhere on the field, always finding a way to win the ball. She does the unglamorous things to make the team better.”
Junior Grace Lilly was the team’s leading scorer the last two years. “She has a nose for being in the right place at the right time and finishing,” Leff said. Another key returner is sophomore sweeper Tiye Baraka, whom Leff calls “a shutdown defender.”
The Illineks have a roster of 32 players, including three-sport athlete Madeline Nelson and another talented sophomore, Lilly Bralts-Kelly. Sophomore Natalie Dullerud is a returning starter as a defensive midfielder who has been sidelined by illness. “I’m excited about this year’s team,” first-year head coach Leff said.