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Preview story: Carmel, Benet ready to throw down in key ESCC battle -- updated

By Matt LeCren, 04/03/23, 3:00PM CDT


The athletic directors and coaches had concerns the weather wouldn't cooperate, so soccer fans will have to wait a few extra days to see the big East Suburban Catholic Conference between Carmel and Benet.

Instead of Tuesday, the Corsairs will wait until Saturday (April 8) to travel to Lisle for an 11:30 a.m. start.

The added delay should only ramp up the anticipation.

“This is the kind of conference game you look forward to the whole offseason,” Benet coach Gerard Oconer said.

Carmel (4-0-1, 0-0-0) is ranked 14th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 poll, one spot below Benet (4-1-0, 1-0-0). Benet enters the contest without a match since March 23. Carmel tied Libertyville 1-1 Thursday.

The Redwings previous game was a doozy, a 4-0 loss to third-ranked Plainfield North. The Redwings played that game without four key team members. Defenders Sadie Sterbenz (foot injury) and Nora Hanson (illness) did not compete. Midfielder Brinkley Douglas and defender Chloe Sentman have yet to play this season due to injury.

Four-year varsity midfielder Rachel Burns was limited to spot minutes against the Tigers as she rehabs from an ankle injury.

Hanson, a Stetson recruit, and Sterbenz, a Middle Tennessee State commit, are expected to play against Carmel, which has outscored its opponents 12-3. Oconer hopes to have Sentman and the Richmond-bound Douglas back within a week or two.

“In the back, we should be fine,” Oconer said. “We’re not really too concerned about that right now.

“We’re more concerned how it’s going to be after the spring break layoff and kind of reestablishing our rhythm after a tough game against Plainfield North.”

The Redwings had been rolling up until that match, outscoring opponents 19-1. But they were stopped cold by the deep and talented Tigers.

“I can’t imagine a team this year that’s going to be better than them,” Oconer said. “They’re probably the best team that we’ve played in at least the last 5-to-10 years. They’re just so deep everywhere. The sign of a good team is every time you make a mistake, they punish you.

“That’s probably the most beneficial thing for our kids is that a lot of our younger players got that good experience, so they know what they need to do to get to that next level. It really exposed some of the things that we need to improve on.

“I can’t foresee us seeing any team any better than them the entire season.”

The Redwings may not see a conference team as talented as Carmel, which lends gravitas to this match. The winner will be considered a strong favorite to lift the league crown.

Carmel’s hopes rest on the continued production of returning forwards and Chicagoland Soccer All-Staters Emily Fix and Anna Hartman, who have been dynamic at the top of the Corsairs’ 4-4-2 formation. Hartman, a talented two-sport athlete who helped Carmel’s girls basketball team to the Class 3A state championship in 2022, is healthy after recovering from a torn ACL suffered last May.

“What’s really dangerous about them is the way that those two are able to connect with each other,” Oconer said. “When one receives the ball, the other one looks to them right away.

“They just have a really good connection with each other. That’s what makes them so dangerous, because you can’t just focus on one of them. If you try to focus on one of them, the other one will beat you.”

Hartman, and the Marquette-bound Fix, have found each other regularly, with impressive results. Fix has bagged eight goals and one assist, while Hartman, who had 21 assists last season and may have a shot at the school’s career assist record, has recorded one goal and four assists.

“They are two weapons on offense,” Carmel coach Stephanie Kile said. “If you have one of those type of players on your team, you’re in good shape.

“And the fact that we have two very strong forwards, who are just dominant in the final third and are composed and play so well together, it is really fun to watch.”

Unlike last year, Benet does not have a dominant scorer. But that won’t make it any easier to defend the Redwings.

Forwards Anna Casmere and Johnna Caliendo share the team lead with four goals apiece, but even the coaching staff doesn’t know where the offense will come from on any given day.

“That’s the exciting part for us is we don’t know until the game actually happens, who it might be,” Oconer said. “It could be anybody and that’s what’s going to make it really hard to prepare for us.

“We don’t even know who is going to be the breakout in that game.”

To counter that uncertainly, Kile said she will depend heavily on juniors Bella D’Amore and Jillian Miller.

“Bella D’Amore is our defensive midfielder,” Kile said. “She’s done a really nice job in trying to prevent breakaways.

“And Jillian Miller she isn’t given as much credit as she deserves. I converted her from a midfielder to a defender this year. She’s been playing center back. She is learning the position, but she has done an amazing job.

“I think she has had a really positive attitude about learning a position she’s never played before. So, I’m going to rely on her, for sure, to keep everything organized in the back.”

Carmel may have a leg up on Benet after it hosts 16th-ranked Libertyville on Thursday. No matter, they would never underestimate what the Redwings bring to the table.

 “Benet is always a respectful team,” Kile said. “They are always dominant in the conference.

“If you beat a team like Benet, you have a good chance at a conference championship. Obviously, we have other strong opponents in the conference with Saint Viator (ranked no. 1 in the Chicagoland Soccer Class AA Super 7 poll), but Benet is a very healthy rivalry.

“We look forward to it. We’re very, very excited.”