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Preview story: Benet, Saint Viator always leary when rivalry rolls around

By Mike Garofola, 04/16/23, 8:45PM CDT


Despite the near 30-mile distance between each other, the annual Benet-Saint Viator futbol match has kind of that EPL derby feel of North London or Manchester.

After all, these two clubs have both shared or outright lifted the East Suburban Catholic Conference trophy 10 times. Saint Viator dominated from 1999-2005. Benet has won the last three titles, two outright and shared another in 2019 with Joliet Catholic.

The Redwings are undefeated in their last 18 league contests, which includes its current 4-0-0 mark. Saint Viator enters the game at 1-0-0 after winning its league opener over Joliet Catholic.

They will get together for their annual tussle at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights.

"(This) is Saint Viator we're playing, and it is always an important date on our calendar, one that we take very seriously," said Redwings senior and star keeper Shannon Clark, who will continue her career at the University of Denver.

"It really doesn't matter where in the season we play, or if we need the game, or the outcome of the game decides the ESCC title. It's a game we fully expect to see Saint Viator come at us, because for them it's also a big rivalry game.”

Clark, a four-year veteran, sings the praises of her backline, which includes Bailey Abbott, Nora Hansen, Gabby Hedden and Sadie Sterbenz.

"We lost (All-Stater) Annastacia (Thiel) to graduation, but Bailey, Nora, Gabby and Sadie have really done a great job in front of me,” said a proud Clark. “I have complete confidence in all four of them."

The defensive unit has conceded just five goals on the season; Clark has earned seven clean-sheets so far for the Redwings (8-1-0), who are ranked at no. 12 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.

"Shannon has been there when we have needed her,” said Redwings manager Gerard Oconer. “She made a key save off a free kick to preserve our win over Glenbard West, and once again was there for us to help shut out (no. 19) Carmel last week also," 

"She made some spectacular saves to keep us in our only loss against (no. 3) Plainfield North (a 4-0 loss March 23). To have a great keeper like Shannon makes it so much easier for our defenders to do their job and to be more aggressive, because they have so much confidence in her."

"Sterbenz has been outstanding as she has transitioned from outside back (to) the center to replace Thiel. Keira Petrucelli, Rania Fikri and Annie Fitzgerald have been excellent in the middle to make up for the loss of Katie Lewellyan," continued Oconer.

Lewellyan was a Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater and co-conference Player of the Year last spring.

Benet, the Class AA state runnerup from a year ago, also lost the top goal-scorer from its 22-5-0 club in two-time All-Stater Mariana Pinto (Lewis), who bagged 25 and added 13 helpers.

"We relied heavily on Mariana to score most our goals, but Rachel Burns, and Johnna Caliendo have filled in nicely at the nine. Ivana Vukas, and Anna Casmere have led the way in goals scored to this point," says Oconor.

Vukas leads the club with eight tallies, followed by Casmere and Caliendo with five each. Casmere leads the way with seven helpers; Keira Petrucelli has five.

In 2022 in her rookie varsity season, Petrucelli was third behind Pinto and Lewellyn in goals with 12.

"Reese (MacDonald), and Annie (Fitzgerald) have filled in really well for Katie Lewellyan in the middle,” said Clark. “And when Rachel Burns and Brinkley Douglas are both back to being 100 percent from their injuries, we'll have much more depth and talent to rely on."

Saint Viator (5-3-0), in junior Allie Konopka, not only has one of its few three-year players and two-year starters, but someone who has an understanding of what it means to be in form and ready to play a longtime rival who dominated the Lions 6-0 a year ago in Lisle.

"That was not a very good result last year, so we all know we have to bring our best in order to compete with the best," said Konopka.

"We lost some very good seniors from last year, and we have two great seniors back, Molly Craig and Josephine Westerkamp. But other than that we are really a young team that has talent and is willing to work in order to improve." 

Konopka said the addition of freshman Jenna Caputo, who plays alongside her up-top, has helped improve the attack significantly.

The Lions new and improved 2023 schedule has manager Byron DeLeon’s club facing the likes of Barrington and Libertyville. The team also took a trip to Kansas City, where they played high profile clubs Pembroke Hill and St. Pius X.

"It's been a pretty good season thus far," said DeLeon, now in his second year in charge after coming over from Maine East. “The team has more balance and depth to help us make more of an impact when the playoffs begin for us.”