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Feature story: After weekend setbacks, South Elgin sets sights on conference race

By Bobby Narang, 04/23/23, 9:15AM CDT


MT. PROSPECT -– Not much went right for South Elgin this weekend.

The Storm, who played in the Body Armor last weekend, hit the road for another stiff test at Prospect High School on Friday and Saturday.

After 33 seasons, the eight-team event was renamed the Joe Welk Invitational. The honoree was a former youth soccer coach for the Mount Prospect Green White Soccer Club.

Just like the previous weekend, the Storm ran into its namesake weather.

South Elgin first-year girls coach Jerzy Skowron said his program benefitted from playing two highly competitive games against talented teams. The Storm dropped a 1-0 quarterfinal decision to the host Knights (9-1-2) on Friday night, then suffered similar loss to University (Normal/7-6-1) Saturday morning in the consolation semifinals.

As the Storm (5-6-1, 3-0-1 Upstate Eight Conference) were set to play in the seventh place game against Palatine immediately after the first game of the day, the Thor Guard system sounded.

Skowron said both teams decided to cancel the game, due to a number of factors, including injuries.

“We went into it with a plan that everybody was going to play (today),” Skowron said. “We called in some junior varsity players to give us a bit of a break. 

“We already had injuries before (the tournament), so we knew Prospect was going to be tough. It wasn’t as close as the 1-0 score. They were more aggressive than we were. 

“It’s nice to have games like this before we hit a stretch of conference games like we will have.”

That’s the silver lining for the Storm after they lost a shootout to Huntley after a 1-1 draw and had a game canceled by weather at the Body Armor in Schaumburg, and the pair of shutout losses in the Welk. 

The Storm sit in a good spot in the Upstate Eight Conference race. Glenbard South (6-5-0, 5-1-0) and West Chicago (7-2-3, 3-0-2) have more points, but the Storm have games in hand. Elgin (6-3-2, 3-1-1) has the same amount of points but has played one more match. Two-time defending champion Bartlett (2-1-1 in UEC), 2022 co-champ Glenbard East, Streamwood, Larkin, East Aurora and Fenton round out the pack.

The Storm, who lost 2-0 to York, an honorable mention team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, on Tuesday, the gave Glenbard South its first conference loss with a 1-0 win Wednesday.

The Storm’s next five matches complete its conference schedule.

They host Larkin on Monday, play at Elgin on Wednesday and entertain East Aurora on Friday. 

“It’s nice to get teams like this (Prospect, University) leading up to this week,” Skowron said. “We’re fortunate enough to be undefeated in the conference right now. We need somebody to beat West Chicago.”

Streamwood (May 1) and Bartlett (May 3) finish South Elgin’s conference run.

Senior defender Lesly Ulloa said the Storm have a strong future due to a number of talented young players.

“I feel we’re doing pretty good,” Ulloa said. “Our chemistry has gotten better, and our communication has risen up. Overall, I feel we’re doing much better since our first game. 

“We still need to work on playing 100 percent all the time. The U-High game exposed some of our miscommunication in the middle. We need to be more aggressive to win the 50/50 balls.

“The weekend was pretty good. Our team is very young. We’re getting used to a lot of new girls playing on the varsity level. They are getting used to the speed of play. The win over Glenbard South was good and boosted our confidence.”

Like in several games this season, senior goalie Karissa Cruz split time with backup freshman Jersie Spiedel in Saturday’s match. Cruz, a captain, said the tough nonconference schedule will pay off in the final month of the regular-season.

“We’re definitely struggling a bit with so many players being injured, but that’s helping us to find other players to step up,” Cruz said. “We have to find out what some of our teammates’ strengths are and how they act in certain situations, which will come with more game experience.

“The last two weekends have been tough. We have a lot of things to work on. … We have to keep practicing and building. We have to have more communication.”

Junior forward Ella Dihel, who didn’t play against University (Normal), noted the Storm are a work in progress because of their mixed roster.

“We have to work hard through the entirety of the game and fix mistakes from the first half,” she said. “Our organization in the back we need to build upon and connect with the offense to finalize our chances. We played good competition. It was super fun to play against the competition. Our main goal this year is to win our conference. We’re working hard every day to make sure we accomplish that goal.”

Freshman midfielder Ellie Vidic has shown a big upside in the first half of the season. She’s hoping to build off her solid start.

“I think going forward and just playing more games and learning new things, and experience will help all us become better players,” Vidic said. “I’m just trying to be ready to play and to have the right mindset to win. We owe it to the seniors to play our best.

“I felt good about our second game (at Prospect). We played better than the first game. We were connecting more passes and had more chances at goal. It was tough, especially with our injuries and not having everybody. We have to work as a unit to get better.”

Skowron said his players understand the urgency to play a full 80 minutes in every game heading into the stretch run.

“We played better today,” he said. “We had opportunities. We were missing a few players. We left Ellie on an island, to do all the attacking. She’s just a freshman, even as good as she is, she can’t put a whole team on her back.

“She was still doing well. We put her up, out wide and even in the middle. She’s finding her groove.”