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Preview story: Naperville Invitational ready to take-off

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 04/20/23, 1:45PM CDT


Troy Adams knows something about elite competition.

He directed his boys team at Naperville Central to the Class 3A state championship last fall.

This spring in his first year directing the girls program, Adams inherited a pivotal role of influence as the host of the Naperville Invitational, the state’s most prestigious regular-season tournament.

“The Naperville Invitational is the most competitive tournament outside of the state IHSA state series,” Adams said. 

“It gives teams an opportunity to play two challenging games in a short time, much like the state tournament.”

According to the narrative history of the tournament, 27 of the last 33 large-school state champions have played in the Naperville Invitational.

Barrington lost a memorable 3-2 double-overtime championship game to Naperville North last year.

The Fililes followed with a run to the state title game, where they lost in a penalty shootout to Metea Valley.

“This tournament is simply a test of where you are at against the best teams in the state,” Barrington coach Ryan Strengren said. 

This year’s iteration features six of the top 10 teams in the current Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.

Overall 12 teams from the ranking, ranging from no. 2 Barrington to no. 18 Hinsdale Central, decorate the field. 

Three teams who sit within the honorable mention designation are also competing.

The format consists of eight three-team groups. The group winners comprise the quarterfinal teams of the knockout championship bracket. Group play begins Thursday at Naperville Central, Naperville North, Barrington and New Trier. The knockout stage begins April 27 with the semifinals and championship match to follow.

Here is a closer look at the top teams and players in each group, with current Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 rank, if applicable.


Group A

No. 5 Geneva
No. 10 Naperville Central
HM York

Players to watch: Geneva forward Rilee Hasegawa, midfielder Lilly Coats, keeper Jordan Forbes, midfielder Caroline Madden; Naperville Central defender/midfielder Ella Burke, forward Megan Norkett, forward Rebecca Ruggiero. York forwards Finley Ewald and Allison Sheehan

Must-see game: 10 a.m. Saturday (April 22) 
Geneva at Naperville Central

They said it

Rilee Hasegawa, Geneva forward 
“Our team is grateful for being able to participate every year in such a high-level tournament. We take each game as an opportunity for growth and development because any team we play is going to be a great fight.”

Troy Adams, Naperville Central coach
“We are going to play two teams this weekend that are very similar to the top DuPage Valley teams, preparing us for the conference and playoff run.”


Group B

No. 11 Oswego East
No. 14 St. Charles North
Waubonsie Valley

Players to watch: Oswego East midfielders Anya Gulbrandsen and Erika Smiley, keeper Sam McPhee; St. Charles North midfielders Bella Najera and Sophie Kiersten, defender Lauren Balster, keeper Kara Claussen; Waubonsie Valley midfielder Taylor Ahmadian, defenders Eleanor Oster and Zoe Evans.  

They said it

Taylor Ahmadian, midfielder, and Eleanor Oster, defender, Waubonsie Valley (combined statement)
“As a team, we are very excited to play against, as well as be challenged, by a variety of talented teams. The games will help us gain more exposure against new teams and styles of play, and continue to help us grow as a whole for the remaining parts of the season.”

Anya Gulbrandsen, Oswego East midfielder
“No matter what group you are in, every team is stacked with talented players who are extremely competitive. I know my team and I are very excited to challenge ourselves, and grow with the opportunity to do so.”

Bella Najera, St. Charles North midfielder
“Playing in the tournament is such an honor because it gives our team a chance to showcase our abilities and see how we compare to the best teams in the state. It also helps us learn what we need to improve on so we can be prepared when it comes to the postseason. It is also fun to play against some of my former club teammates.”

Must-see game: Noon, Saturday at Naperville Central
St. Charles North vs. Oswego


Group C
No. 12 Benet
No. 15 Naperville North

Players to watch: Benet forward Anna Casmere, midfielders Rachel Burns, Reese MacDonald, keeper Shannon Clark; Naperville North forwards Claire DeCook and Annie Chang, midfielders Cameron DeCook and Maggie Fitzgerald; Oswego forward Anna Johnson

They said it

Anna Johnson, Oswego forward
“I am super excited. They are always such high-level teams to play against. It is a great test for us to see how we match up against some of the top teams in the state. It prepares us so well for the intensity of the state tournament. We are just so grateful to be able to compete against such great programs.”

Steve Goletz, Naperville North coach
“Oftentimes, the run to win the Invitational is tougher than making a deep playoff run due to so many high-level teams. It really shows you how slim the margin of error is in many games, and truly gets you playoff ready.”

Must-see game: 10 a.m. Saturday
Benet at Naperville North


Group D

No. 4 St. Charles East
HM Neuqua Valley

Players to watch: St. Charles East forwards Grace Williams, Mia Raschke, midfielder Kara Machala, defender Mackenzie Loomis; Neuqua Valley forwards Safa Jeffery, Selma Larbi, midfielder Brianna Clasen, defender Lauren Milani; Sandburg midfielders Gabby Dittmer and Morgan Gallagher, forward Maeve Durkin

Must-see game: 7 p.m. Friday (April 21) at Naperville North 
St. Charles East vs. Neuqua Valley

They said it

Grace Williams, St. Charles East forward
“Playing in the tournament really excites me, because it gives me the opportunity to play great competition and grow. The tournament is always a great way to scout teams and get a feel for their game. I feel like last year it really helped us gauge who to look out for, and who we needed to beat.”


Group E

No. 2 Barrington
Downers Grove South
Saint Viator

Must-see game: 10 a.m. Saturday
Downers Grove South at Barrington

Players to watch: Barrington midfielders Brooke Brown and Kaitlyn Taylor, forward Piper Lucier, and defender Ellie Sanchez; Downers Grove South forward Emily Petring, keeper Hannah Fedinec, midfielder Krystal Flores; Saint Viator keeper Kyli Ziebka, midfielder Monica Correa

They said it

Ryan Stengren, Barrington coach
“Winning this tournament means in the second week, you have to play three games in less than three days against the best. It will best you physically and mentally. I can’t think of a better way to prepare your team for the state playoffs.”


Group F

No. 3 Lyons 
No. 13 Fremd

Players to watch: Bartlett midfielder Brooke Baumann, keeper Megan Kron, forward Viviana Alba; Lyons forward Katie O’Malley, midfielders Caroline Mortonson, Izzi Wirtz, Niamh Griffin, defender Chandlar Lay; Fremd forward Gwen Zimmerman, midfielder Leah Saxe, defenders Bella Scesniak, Gemma Gillespie.

Must-see game: 7 p.m., Friday at Barrington
Lyons vs. Fremd


Group G

No. 9 New Trier
No. 18 Hinsdale Central

Players to watch: Fenwick midfielder forward Grace Kapsch, midfielders Kiera Mullarkey, Maddie Rogowski, defender Elle Dvorak; Hinsdale Central midfielders Julia Marinaccio, Cate McDonnell, defender Ava Elliott; New Trier forward Josie Noble, midfielders Lida Dodge, Annie Paden, Lauren Caldwell

Must-see game: 7 p.m. Thursday (April 20)
Hinsdale Central at New Trier


Group H

HM Loyola
Oak Park and River Forest

Players to watch: Loyola forwards Ellie Vehovsky, Ella Couri, defenders Ellianna Seeley, Emily Pikarski; Oak Park and River Forest midfielders Cate Ryan, Gweny Lopez, Keira Kleidon, defender Tess Wright. Editor’s note: York has not yet responded to a request for team information. It will be added if they do.

They said it

Shannon Hartinger, Loyola coach
“The Invitational is another opportunity for us to get quality games against top-tier opponents. We know each game will be an opportunity to test ourselves against great teams. We look forward to this event every year, knowing this is another part of our preparation as we draw closer to the state playoffs.”

Must-see game: 7 p.m. Friday
Loyola at Oak Park and River Forest