By Bobby Narang
WHEATON – Her name might be plain, but her game is anything but.
Early in the 2023 soccer season, Wheaton North freshman forward Jane Rogers' play is suggesting she may belong in the company of the top players in the DuKane Conference.
Before the season, Rogers was already on the radar of area coaches. At Wheaton North, her prolific play in the first month is bringing renewed hope for a winning season and possibly a say in the league race.
The Falcons, who finished at 9-10-0 overall last season, possess a solid mix of returnees: talented offensive skill players; a strong goalie; and talented defenders to make some noise this season.
So why not open up the conference season against a rival with their freshman sparking the attack?
That’s what happened on a chilly but comfortable Thursday night. Rogers led the Falcons to a 2-1 comeback win over Batavia in league play.
Rogers said she’s adapting to playing heavy minutes for the Falcons, along with the demanding role. She has scored six goals and tallied three assists in her young career.
“It’s fun and I enjoy it,” Rogers said. “I’ve played with a lot of the girls before, and I just feel really supported by the team. We have good chemistry.
“It’s just harder to adjust to playing with bigger, stronger and taller girls; that’s hard, and learn how to use your body in the right way.”
Wheaton North junior defender Addison Falco said the come-from-behind victory was key for a team looking to create momentum for the conference season. The Falcons (3-3-1, 1-1-0) dropped a 3-1 decision in DuKane play to St. Charles North, which ranks 11th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, on Tuesday.
“We definitely needed this for our mojo, because we were feeling down,” Falco said. “I feel with this win we kind of got our groove back. It was tough, because they were a competitive team. I tried not to get down when they scored first. We all kept a positive mindset.”
The two-year starter added that the Falcons can rise above several area teams if they work on playing together and getting consistent play, especially from developing standouts like Rogers.
“We have a lot of young new stars, and old ones too,” Falco said, smiling. “I think that as we grow and get used to each other’s play, we can be something special. Chemistry is everything, on and off the field. I think this team has a lot of it.”
Batavia (2-2-0, 0-1-0) came out aggressively, possibility still stinging from a 5-0 defeat to third-ranked Plainfield North on March 27. The Bulldogs welcomed their return to the pitch following the long break since the match. After a scoreless first half, the Bulldogs hit the scoring column first on Sophia Vozza’s goal after a corner kick.
The senior defender smacked the loose ball from a group of players into the back of the net with 39:03 left in regulation for a 1-0 lead.
“It all happened so fast, and I just saw the ball coming back after it hit off someone,” Vozza said. “I just tried to do my best, and it landed right next to me on the ground.
“It felt really good to get a goal. I usually play defense, so goals aren’t common for me. I haven’t scored a goal in over a year.
“I’m happy with how our team played together. It was our first game after break. We worked well. We have to just work on finishing our chances near the goal, but I’m proud of our team.”
Batavia certainly walked away from the game with a tinge of frustration on missed chances. Three different players had in-close quality shots in the final five-plus minutes of the first half but came up empty.
Senior forward Laila Figueras nearly tied the game in the 65th minute, but Bohmer made a diving save to stop the threat.
“We had good momentum in the first half, and our energy was really good throughout the entire game,” Figueras said. “I don’t think that showed in the score. It was just hard with their back-to-back goals. We fought hard the whole game. It’s tough losing like this, because we put our whole heart out there.”
“We have to keep fighting through the hard stuff, even when the other team gets some momentum. We have to keep fighting. We have a lot of new people, but I’m excited, because we have a lot of good girls.”
Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco also noticed a number of positives in the one-goal defeat.
“We haven’t played since the Monday of spring break, so I thought they came out very well,” Gianfrancesco said. “The girls were energized and our game plan was very good. We had a run of the play. We just need to finish more chances in by the goal. I thought we met their physicality. I was pretty pleased with it.”
The Bulldogs played two goalies in the conference game. Senior Addi Cooper was in the net during the first half, and senior Natalie Dean handled the final 40 minutes.
“We didn’t respond quick enough after they scored the second goal,” Gianfrancesco said. “I think with a lot of new players on the varsity level, they’ve got to know that and learn how to respond after goals.
“I thought overall we played very well, but just have to finish those chances and missed out on a couple of passing opportunities. We did have a couple of chances, just got to get on the end of finishing.
“We were finding the open person and moving the ball. (Wheaton North’s) defense did a nice job of getting some balls out there, and their goalie did a nice job stepping out on a couple of those and made some nice saves.
“Sophia had a great game today, and Kailey (Hansen) did some nice work in the middle. I’m happy to get on a run here of some games and some rhythm of games. It’s tough to start and stop again. We had good energy and play again Saturday and Monday, so I get to see a lot in the next four or five days.”
Batavia's biggest problem was stopping Rogers from smacking the ball into the back of the net. Two minutes after the Bulldogs seized their only lead, Rogers answered by showing some toughness, especially for a freshman. She saw a loose ball squirting toward the goal and raced to it alongside a Batavia defender.
At the end of stride-for-stride, several-yard run, Rogers slightly bumped the Batavia defender to open a sliver of space. In that, she blasted the shot that tied the game.
“The first goal was a really nice ball by Talia (Kaempf) which got it behind the backline,” Rogers said. “We talked about that at halftime. That’s where we found some strengths. It was nice to see us capitalize on that.”
Seven minutes later, Rogers added the game-winner when she nudged a shot in the back of the net. The sequence started with a free kick.
“The second goal was a really nice header by Macy (Hutchinson),” Rogers said. “The ball just slipped in, and I was just there to tap it in. The full credit goes to Macy.”
Wheaton North avoided two threats down the stretch by the Bulldogs to notch their first victory since a 5-0 triumph over Sandburg on March 21 in their Wheaton North Kickoff Classic.
Falcons coach Tim McEvilly said his team displayed fortitude bouncing back from the deficit.
“To me, the biggest benefit for us tonight was going down 1-0,” McEvilly said. “We showed courage of not letting it get to us and coming back by putting two in to take the lead.
“That’s the building block from that. We know we can score goals. We have to be confident we can come back, because we play a lot of high-quality teams. We can build off that.”
On Wheaton North's more immediate to-do list, is the aim to defend its Porter Cup championship in Lockport. The forecast next week calls for a run of summer-like weather, allowing the Falcons a good opportunity to test themselves against quality foes in quality conditions.
“We are the defending champions, and they again have some great teams in there,” McEvilly said. “We’re looking forward to that tournament and the next couple of weeks in conference.”
GK: Addi Cooper
D: Sophia Vozza
D: Delia Perfect
D: Hannah Hickman
D: Alexa Schorr
MF: Brooke Carlson
MF: Avery Solomon
MF: Kailey Hansen
MF: Sarah Koziol
MF: Addison Lowe
F: Laila Figueras
GK: Zoey Bohmer
D: Addison Falco
D: Sophia Fadel
D: Mira Spillane
MF: Annie Pyykkonen
MF: Calah Strong
MF: Kylee Gosling
MF: Piper Harborth
MF: Macy Hutchinson
F: Jane Rogers
F: Talia Kaempf
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Jane Rogers, fr., F, Wheaton North
Batavia – Vozza (Carlson), 41’
Wheaton North – Rogers (Kaempf), 43’
Wheaton North – Rogers (Hutchinson), 50’