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Slow start, Libertyville doom St. Francis

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 04/09/23, 10:00PM CDT


Spartans fail to slow down ranked Libertyville

EVANSTON — The worst possible start played out in real time for St. Francis.

In the first month of the season, the Spartans have had diametrically opposite results.

A strong start and decisive victory, and a slow start and lopsided defeat.

Going up against Libertyville, which is ranked 16th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, St. Francis needed a sharp opening to develop confidence and hope.

“I just thought we were not very good in the first half,” Spartans coach Jim Winslow said.

Libertyville took control with a fifth minute goal and cruised to the 4-0 victory in the opening round of Group B play of the 5th annual Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic on Saturday afternoon.

The Spartans (2-2-0) return here Monday to play their ninth-ranked hosts in the continuation of group play.

St. Francis is at a decided disadvantage as, by far, the smallest school in the 12-team field. The Wheaton school has 695 students.

Also, all three of their group play opponents are ranked --  St. Francis hosts no. 17 Naperville North on Wednesday.

Senior keeper Hannah Blaha played well despite the final margin.

Libertyville applied near constant pressure, and Blaha was under repeated duress throughout.

“I am really proud of our team,” she said. “We didn’t let the goals get us down, and we still continued to attack.

“We didn’t get a goal, unfortunately, but we still played really hard throughout the game.”

The victories came against similar-sized programs in Montini and Rosary.

The two defeats have come against no. 10 Naperville Central and Libertyville.

“This tournament is great for getting us ready to play the bigger teams because it always gets tougher later in the season,” Blaha said.

“If we play well in these games in the middle of the season, we are better prepared and ready to improve.”

Libertyville returns three starters from a supersectional team. 

Coming off a tie with no. 14 Carmel, the Wildcats (3-0-1) came out hard and fast, creating an up-tempo and forward attack that pushed the Spartans on their heels.

Ellie Rebman ignited the offensive, breaking free and smashing home a ball from the right wing from 15 yards in the fifth minute.

Playing from ahead is the preferred method.

“It felt really great getting our team advanced like that,” she said. “I feel like getting the first goal really sets up to keep your heads up and be successful.

“You never want to go down first in a game.”

A former club player making her high school debut, Rebman is a hybrid talent who has the versatility and positional flexibility to play anywhere on the field.

Listed as a defender, she played in the middle and the top of the attack.

“It just depends on how our opponent matches up with us,” she said. “I will drop back as a defender if we need help, or if their offense is really good.

“I will push forward if there’s not as much of a threat.”

She also assisted a second half goal by midfielder Molly Koch.

Rebman earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for her outstanding play.

Midfielder Jenna Krakowski is the mainstay of the program, the leading returner from the supersectional team.

A Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List player, she put the Wildcats up two with her goal from 19 yards on the right wing in the 19th minute.

“We have been working on our team chemistry,” Krakowski said.

Her sister, freshman Shea Krakowski, started with her in the middle.

“There are a lot of new girls and younger girls, so I feel like everybody has been very positive,” she said.

“We have been bringing everybody up.”

Libertyville took that lead into the break.

Blaha limited the damage, drawing on her size, quickness and athleticism to thwart Libertyville at the point of attack.

“Usually I like to play aggressively,” Blaha said. “I use my defense and touch to shield some of those shots, but mostly I just like to react and not let them shoot as much.

“When I attack more, they have fewer opportunities to shoot.”

Blaha is also a rare senior starter. 

Only midfielders Ada Suriano and defender Ella Schroeder are her classmates.

It is not uncommon for the Spartans to have multiple freshmen on the field at once.

Junior forward Paige Chrustkowski, another Watch List player, lamented the lack of urgency at the start, yielding the early deficit and having to chase.

“Going down early was obviously not what we wanted, but I think we did have choices, myself included, where I just didn’t use the best of my opportunities,” she said.

“I laid the ball off a couple of times where I could have taken the shot. But this is still the beginning, and I think playing these big teams is going to help us, especially since we play in a smaller conference.”

The Spartans have been a Class AA state powerhouse who have won two state championships.

Chrustkowski is the driving threat, a mobile, gifted and physical talent who has the ability to play in space or the air.

“I think of myself as very much of a team player,” she said. “I like to find the center back, and be able to play back through the middle third and take on more of the action myself.

“I really like to be involved, so the more we get used to the way everybody plays, the more we are going to be able to play the way (coach) Jim (Winslow) wants us to.”

Despite the final score, the bright spots and optimistic moments were clear.

Freshman midfielder Molly Marks showed toughness and an alert presence around the ball.

Ella Wozniak was quick at the top of the attack, and midfielder Sophia Roszkowski also flashed exceptional promise.

“These are great games, and teams for us to play against,” Chrustowski said.

“These games are just going to push us to focus more and try things on the field, even the more simple things that will help us go up and beyond.”

Everything is still embryonic, in terms of the ages of the players on the field and their time together.

St. Francis just needs some game time and expanded opportunities.

“They were just eating us alive in the first half, and we did a better job in the second half,” Winslow said. “They’re a good team, and you have to give them credit.

“Our issue right now is youth. We were super young and super injured last year. This year is more of the same with all of these freshmen. It is what it is.”

Starting lineups

St. Francis
GK: Hannah Blaha
D: Shannon Brown
D: Alyssa Suriano
D: Stephanie Sullivan
D: Ella Schroeder
MF: Ada Suriano
MF: Sophia Roszkowski
MF: Clare Andrzjewski
MF: Megan Maertens
F: Ella Wozniak
F: Paige Chrustkowski

GK: Brianna Valdez
D: Erin Kelly
D: Pru Babat
D: Maddy Kopala
D: Megan Roberts
MF: Molly Koch
MF: Cara Stratton
MF: Shea Krakowski
MF: Jenna Krakowski
F: Ellie Rebman
F: Tess McGormley

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Ellie Rebman, sr., F, Libertyville

Scoring summary

First half
Libertyville—Ellie Rebman (Molly Koch), fifth minute
Libertyville—Jenna Krakowski (Cara Stratton), 19th minute

Second half
Libertyville—Cook (Rebman), 65th minute
Libertyville—Lilly Frantz (unassisted), 73rd minute