WEST CHICAGO -- Karissa Cruz didn’t have to do much during Wednesday’s Upstate Eight conference game.
The South Elgin senior goalkeeper and Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List member made one save while her defenders cleaned up the few chances West Chicago created. However, the Storm proved unable to bury any of own its opportunities and headed home after a 0-0 road draw.
“I like having a bored goalkeeper,” South Elgin coach Jerzy Skowron said. “And for the most part, Karissa looked bored today other than when she had to run out and scoop up some loose balls and stuff like that.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how we played today against a good conference opponent. We can go home undefeated still and get ready for Friday’s game against Naperville North.”
South Elgin (0-0-1, 0-0-1) became more dangerous as the game progressed, a good sign to see in the opening game with different personnel on the field from a season ago. The newcomers included the prep debut of starting freshmen Ellie Vidic and Neveah Gyurko.
“At first I was a little anxious to play. But we warmed up and got ready, and I was able to get into that mindset to be aggressive and play my game,” Gyurko said. “I think as the season goes on, we’re going to get a better feeling of how to play as a team, and I think that is something that will come in handy.”
Skowron is excited about his new talent this spring, including his quintet of freshmen: backup goalkeeper Jersie Speidel, forward Alexiah Garcia and center midfielders Laura Garcia, Vidic and Gyurko.
“It’s kind of like how the Green Bay Packers went from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, we go from Katrina Barthelt (13 goals in 2022 and a Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater from 2019-21) to now Neveah, so that’s going to be nice to have,” Skowron said. “I think we’re jelling, and the more and more we do this, we’re going to get better and we’re going to get more confident, especially since we’ve very young.”
Those youngsters will get up close and personal with one of the more successful programs in the state on Friday against Naperville North, which is ranked at no. 12 in the Chicagoland Soccer First 50 state-wide preseason poll.
“It probably was not the smartest idea on my part to schedule Naperville North for game two, so we’re throwing them to the wolves to see what they can do,” he said. “We’re going to compete. We’re athletes. We’re quick. We’re strong. We’re not afraid of anybody. These girls will go up and win a tackle.
“(Today) I think Maille (Dunne), Cami (Stokes) and Lesly (Ulloa) did a terrific job.”
For keeping her team fired up and for helping preserve the shutout, Ulloa was named Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match.
South Elgin junior Ella Dihel saw an opening for a shot toward the near post just three minutes into the second half as West Chicago goalkeeper Arianna Hernandez was being pressured, but the shot sailed just right. It was one of the only moments in the game where someone seemingly was on the cusp of finally breaking through.
“We were trying to build throughout the middle and that allowed us to get space in behind for those through-balls,” Dihel said. “Just being aware as to where the net is on the turn and the shot and also the ability to finish is something we need to work on as a unit.”
The Storm’s final decent scoring chance came from a distant boot from senior center midfielder Kiara Andrewin who let it fly with 90 seconds left. Andrewin, Janelle Defensor, Adeline Kinsella and Vidic held their own in the midfield all evening.
“We got some quality chances at the end of the second half,” Skowron said. “And (West Chicago senior Daisy Garcia) is a difference-maker, and we adjusted and did a very good job (on her).”
Communication with one another will undoubtedly improve as the players who are new teammates get to know each other better.
“As a team we try to communicate with each other and tell each other, like Neveah will be like ‘I’m open over here.’ So I know as a player, I have the option to cross it or shoot it,” Dihel said. “It gives me multiple areas to play, which will help us as a team score in the future hopefully.”
Communication is as key to connecting as is confidence.
“I think this season we have been focusing on communication and kind of getting all of the girls confidence up and build up the field,” Ulloa said. “We especially want to create the confidence to shoot on net, shoot on goal. The nerves kind of shut us down in the first half, but I feel like the second half we picked up the intensity. Overall it felt like the team was communicating with each other and that led to the few chances we had on goal.”
South Elgin finished 6-9-4 overall last year but was only outscored 24-22. The Storm returned nine players.
“As a team we need to continue building each other up and letting each other know that we can do this, and we have the ability to score and finish as a team,” said Dihel, who had 2 goals and 8 assists last spring. “I like playing against all these really good players. It helps build up our mentality and our competitiveness so that we’re using that as a fuel instead of like a deterrent. … Using that to fuel us in order to keep going forward and keep pushing and keep getting the ball and maintaining possession. I think this will really help us in the future.”
South Elgin visited West Chicago on Monday and scouted the Wildcats as they struggled in a 5-1 loss to Waubonsie Valley.
“We tried to apply what we saw on Monday in (Tuesday’s) training session, which was our first outdoor training session,” Skowron said. “So getting on the big field like this and the surface, it was kind of like the dog chasing the car effect for the first 10 minutes and then reality kind of set in.”
West Chicago (0-1-1, 0-0-1) was able to show improvement after watching tape of Monday’s loss.
“We spent about half our time at practice (on Tuesday) watching our game from Monday and going over the things we could fix and do better,” West Chicago junior Heidi Pereckas said. “I think that helped a lot, because we were able to visualize what we were doing and fix it and it translated into today’s game.”
Positioning and foot work were two things mentioned by West Chicago coach J. Cesar Gomez and sophomore forward Elina Velasco.
“I think our positioning was a lot better since Monday because we struggled position-wise on Monday,” Velasco said. “We learned a lot and built off of it. Today we had more control, I guess, and we’re still trying to get into game mode.”
Gomez has seen the girls execute in practice, but said it’s going to take time to duplicate it regularly when squaring off against teams like South Elgin.
“We do well in practice right now, but we can’t bring it to the field yet,” he said. “This will look well by the fifth game. We were much improved from Monday, but we are playing a little bit in a hurry. We asked them to play quickly, but they’re playing in a hurry, and we’re not getting our feet comfortable.”
He was comfortable escaping with a tie before heading off to begin DeKalb’s Barb Fest against Rockford East on Friday.
“This result favored us since it’s conference, and we didn’t want to lose one right away,” Gomez said. “Kids were excited to play again. We’re not holding when we need to hold and not releasing when we have to release.
“It’s just a tiny thing that will at some point come together. We have a great group of kids who are learning fast, but we are asking them to produce and in the second game it’s not feasible, but by the fifth game we will be fine.”
GK: Karissa Cruz
D: Maddy Baker
D: Maille Dunne
D: Lesly Ulloa
D: Cami Stokes
MF: Janelle Defensor
MF: Kiara Anderwin
MF: Adeline Kinsella
MF: Ellie Vidic
F: Neveah Gyurko
F: Ella Dihel
GK: Arianna Hernandez
D: Leslie Garnica
D: Nicole Murphy
D: Jenny Espinal
MF: Natalie Fernandez
MF: Brianna Carrasco
F: Allie Muñoz
F: Arizbeth Zuñiga
F: Elina Velasco
F: Heidi Pereckas
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Lesly Ulloa, sr., D, South Elgin