WWS Tiger keepers remain eager believers
By Chris Walker
The last line of defense is the goalkeeper and Wheaton Warrenville South has been blessed to have some tremendous players in the net over the years. But this spring the Tigers need to find a new one and have a couple of girls fighting for the opportunity to earn the starting nod, although right now a pandemic is sidelining high school sports.
Abbie Brennan, a four-year keeper and 2019 graduate, was among the talented group of 11 seniors who graduated. Brennan left Wheaton Warrenville South among the top goalkeepers in school history. She finished fourth all-time in saves (261) and fifth in shutouts (29.5). Now that she’s gone the important position falls into the hands of junior Juliane “Jules” Gonzalez and sophomore Caroline Spayth.
“Those are the two that made varsity, and I don’t know how that was going to play out,” Tigers coach Guy Callipari said. “Jules was the backup for Abbie Brennan but has had some back issues. Since Julies keeps getting pushed back, it looked like at one-point Caroline was going to start. A lot of this we never were able to find out. The first game against Hinsdale Central (March 23) would’ve been a good opportunity to see if she would’ve good enough for her first test.”
Historically, Wheaton Warrenville South has been blessed to suit up some stellar goalkeepers with several earning all-state recognition. Christey Gerber put the Tigers on the map for net ownership prowess with all-state accolades in 1990. Kristen Keane, who concluded her playing career at the University of Michigan, also enjoyed all-state accolades for the Tigers in 2007.
“Gerber was the first to really bring that position to fruition regarding Tiger keepers,” Callipari said. “The team was 13-6-1, and she had 12 shutouts.”
Keane holds school records at Wheaton Warrenville South for career saves (400). She also recorded the most saves in a game (16) and best goals against average in a season (0.38) during her senior year. In addition, she holds the school record for saves in a season (129) which she accomplished during her sophomore year in 2005.
Jeanine Fredrick (1997) had a fantastic career at Eastern Illinois University where she set numerous records including for saves in a season with 132 while being named first team all-Ohio Valley Conference. That all came after she posted 40-career shutouts at Wheaton Warrenville South.
Maureen Carey (2001), who continued at Purdue, is second all-time in saves at Wheaton Warrenville South with 391 and the all-time leader in shutouts with 40.5
Kate Cahalan (2003) was in the net when the Tigers were the state runnerup in 2002 as well as when they beat Lyons 1-0 for third place in 2003. She also has the school’s best all-time goals against average (0.57).
While Carey leads Wheaton Warrenville South in career shutouts, she’s in great company since Keane and Frederick each earned 40 to her 40.5, while Cahalan boasts a school-best 0.57 goals against average which included the two runs that culminated with appearances on state finals weekend.
Katlyn Barnes (2009) posted a 0.70 GAA during her three years in net before moving to Western Kentucky.
Kelsey Graham (2011) was a four-year starter who later starred close to home at Wheaton College, earning first-team All-American accolades and National Goalkeeper of the Year recognition by d3soccer.com in 2014. She became the first CCIW Woman of the Year from Wheaton since Sarah Richardson, also in soccer, in 2007-2008.
“Kelsey is just a great person, and we’ve had some real notables that have come through here,” Callipari said. “Some of our classes have been a little dry lately in terms of numbers coming through, which kinds of brings us to where we are presently at now.”
And that’s not the longtime coach knocking the talent he has this year, but simply alluding to the fact that elite goalkeepers don’t fall off the tree every year.
“Jules (Gonzalez) was the back-up for Brennan last year but had some back injuries so we were scouring the hallways looking for anybody 5-foot-6 or above with any athleticism and hand-eye coordination. We talked to some girls, but none of it panned out. You have to do that sometimes.”
Callipari said it happened when he was coaching at Libertyville and the Wildcats beat Waubonsie Valley 1-0 to win the state title in 1991.
Caroline Cerbus was in net for the Wildcats while also putting together an all-conference season the previous fall for the volleyball team.
“I believe she was 6-foot tall,” he said. “And what you hope for with most goalkeepers is that they will make the save that you expect them to make, or the block, because blocking is just as good. What we’ve found is you don’t want the goalkeeper to be the Achilles heel, but the player is developed and the defense is organized so it’s hard to get in behind.”
Spayth plays for Kopion FC during her club season where she’s coached by Metea Valley coach Chris Whaley, who is currently working with a Valparaiso goalkeeper commit Nikki Coryell with the Mustangs.
She credits Whaley for putting her in position to be a varsity keeper although she’s just a sophomore.
“Whaley is a great coach, and he helped me prepare for varsity since he’s a varsity coach,” she said. “I’ve been playing with Kopion since fourth grade and love that organization. It’s been really helpful, especially now at high school.”
Spayth played on the JV2 squad a season ago, but believes she’s ready to make the leap not only on the roster, but on the field too.
“I’m so excited to make that jump, because I’ve worked super hard,” she said.
“Obviously what’s happening now has the season in jeopardy but (Callipari) has been super optimistic, and he’s keeping the whole program engaged with Zoom-call workouts. He’s given us a lot of hope.”
Adhering to the mentality that a season is still going to happen may not come easily, but it’s something Spayth maintains so she’s always as ready as she can be. She’s fortunate in that she’s a sophomore with more time in the program compared to the seniors.
“I’m trying to stay as engaged as possible,” she said. “The modules that Cal (Callipari) is giving to us have been helpful. We’re trying to keep up with what other soccer organizations are doing,
“I have been playing in the backyard a lot. I do not have the mentality that (this season) isn’t going to happen. It’ll happen eventually so I’ve got to stay positive and engaged and do everything Cal tells us.”
Previously having spent the majority of her time playing in a midfield/forward role, Spayth’s Kopion team needed a goalie when she was in fifth or sixth grade. She gave it a shot.
“It was something new and fun, and I figured I could give it a try,” she said. “I just loved it, but I wasn’t really ready to commit to it until last year. I was playing forward and goalkeeper for the JV2 team and just loved the goalie thing. Now that I’ve made the decision, I can’t even imagine being a field player.”
A key reason why Spayth believes she’s been able to learn to play the position so well and so soon is from hard work and her love for doing it while under the guidance of great coaching.
“I think it really all goes back to coaching,” she said. “I work really hard, but I think the quick turnaround has come from coach Whaley. He has been a huge help for me. He’s always on me, trying to know what I’m going to do and letting me be creative.
“He’s been really helpful in helping me play out of the back. I worked on this a lot the past year, and I’ve had goalie training in the past. I’ve been fortunate to have amazing coaches and people around me to help me. I know I want to work hard and am going to give everything I can, but I couldn’t do this without their help.”
She’s also getting some pointers from her dad.
“I’ve spent some time my dad in the backyard, for sure,” she said. “He grew up playing soccer and has just been a huge help for me. He keeps me grounded. It’s nice to have someone after games and practice to talk everything through with and figure out what I need to work on.”
Gonzalez is as amped up to show what she’s capable of doing as arguably anyone in the state. She’s overcome a lot, which has included serving as Brennan’s back-up the past two seasons while seeing limited action.
“Abbie was awesome and had great seasons both years that I have been here,” Gonzalez said. “Whether we won or lost we had awesome team chemistry here with Abbie and that’s something I’ll carry on this year. We just care a lot about each other. The team always comes first win or lose.”
Last season, Gonzalez didn’t play a full game, but said she appeared in about eight halves before a vertigo problem sidelined her for three to four weeks.
Ultimately, back problems required surgery so she missed her winter basketball season while undergoing a discectomy. Now she feels great while the world suffers in the midst of pandemic. That, folks, is bad, bad luck.
“I’ve been feeling really good and the first month or so after surgery I was not allowed to bend for six weeks, so it was hard to do anything,” she said. “Since then I’ve been running every day and working out.
“Now with the team we’ve been having virtual workouts, and I’ve been doing them. They closed the field I was practicing on so now I’m in my backyard, which is good enough for now. I just cannot wait to play. I think about it all the time.”
Like her coach and teammates, Gonzalez isn’t sure what to make of this year’s Tigers squad. Interestingly, as of the beginning of the week of April 12, the Tigers were only scheduled to have played four games, including nonconference tilts at home against Hinsdale Central and Oswego East and then the conference opener at Geneva last Thursday.
Right now they’d be busy in the PepsiCo Showdown with a huge rivalry conference game awaiting at home against Wheaton North on April 23.
“We only have two starters coming back, and they switched every few games. We lost 11 seniors so no one had any idea really how it was going to turn out this year,” she said. “I know a lot of people on the team are from last year. There are new people from JV or JV2 and some of the new players we had come in have a lot of potential. I like the potential of our team. As soon as we get back, I think we can make good things happen on the field.”
Although Gonzalez has played soccer most of her life, and had fooled around in net before, she didn’t really take it seriously and fall in love with the job until eighth grade. Since that time, it’s become her passion on the soccer field, and having been on the sidelines to see what varsity DuKane Conference soccer is all about, she’s getting antsy.
“There’s so much good competition in high school that you haven’t seen before based on your club,” she said. “Being under the lights in conference games against teams like Geneva and Wheaton North can be really crazy. It’s so important to focus on keeping your head in the game, especially when there are other things like it’s 30 degrees out and raining which is making it tough to communicate and think about every single line and the defense and the forward they have up there.
“It’s really about being aggressive and seeing the field. Those are the two most important things. You’ve got to have a good eye for the field, you have to be able to see all the players and whatever balls come back, you have to go for it.”
Since Gonzalez was coming off her surgery from Dec. 9, she wasn’t going to be available for the start of the season. That also took away the limited time she would’ve had to work with Spayth. For now they’ve only been able to connect through team online sessions, but as luck would have it, the two have already known each other for a long, long time.
“We sort of grew up in the same circle so we’ve known each other since we were little,” Spayth said. “She’s super nice. I love her. She has a huge work ethic, and it’s just amazing seeing her battle so many injuries like she has to come back. She knows what she can do and just does it while keeping a positive attitude through it all.”
“We rode the same bus to middle school,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve always known each other, but this is the first time where we’ll be able to get close.”
And even closer when social distancing ends.
Wheaton Warrenville South All-Time Goalie Records
|GOALS AGAINST AVERAGE|
|0.57 Kate Cahalan||2002-2003|
|0.64 Kesley Graham||2008-2011|
|0.69 Kristen Keane||2004-2007|
|0.70 Katlyn Barnes||2007-2009|
|0.72 Jeanine Fredrick||1995-1997|