After Tuesday night no one knows when or if Wheaton Academy and St. Francis will play each other again.
Though separated by less than seven miles, the teams will never again meet in Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division play after tonight. The St. Francis girls are leaving for the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference, with the boys joining the Chicago Catholic League, beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.
“I think the kids know it’s a rivalry, but I think because it’s spring and everybody’s known about the (conference) change that I don’t know if it has the same feel as a typical rivalry game,” St. Francis coach Jim Winslow said.
Last year, Wheaton Academy fell 2-1 at the end of the regular-season but quickly turned around to survive in the win-or-go-home game in the regional, also by a 2-1 score.
“We beat them last year at our place, and they beat us in the opening regional game so it’s at least been a healthy rivalry, with both teams being competitive,” Winslow said. “It’s unlike the boys’ side where we hadn’t beaten them in eight or 10 years.”
Wheaton Academy coach Maria Selvaggio expects an enjoyable, competitive match.
“They’re a historically good program, and there’s always a fun energy,” she said. “Since they’re going to another conference I don’t know if we’ll schedule again in the regular-season. This might be the last chance to play them until postseason play. It’s going to be fun.”
Getting to host is also going to be fun for the Warriors, something they haven’t done recently. Their last four matches were split between a neutral site and away matches.
“Being in our own space is always comfortable, and we’re confident having a little larger space on our playing field,” Selvaggio said. “It’s something we’re used to, having a little more width, and it’s not just St. Francis, but a lot of schools have tracks around their fields.
“We have a larger space we love to play on and we’re used to it. I think the energy of the home field and an always exciting match between these schools will be good for fan turnout.”
Gauging where these two teams are now at might be as daunting as trying to shut down their top scorers.
St. Francis (4-4-0, 1-0-0) has outscored its opponents 24-2 in their four wins. Conversely they are at the wrong end of a 22-1 scoring-differential in losses, but those defeats have come to ranked Class 3A foes Evanston, Libertyville and the Napervilles at the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic.
“That doesn’t paint a good picture of us. We were playing well, and we were competitive. But we were also so dinged up already,” Winslow said.
The Spartans haven’t really played all-out since a 7-0 loss to Naperville North on April 12. Winslow was able to rest some players while topping cross-over league foe Chicago Christian on April 20.
“It was nice to get some of those kids some days off,” he said. “(Tuesday night’s) game is at their home field and they’re going to come out with their heads on fire, I’m sure.”
Wheaton Academy has won five of its last six matches. Tuesday’s game will be the first since prom last weekend. On April 20, the Warriors won 2-0 at Aurora Central.
“It was good for them to have a little strategic rest in preparation for three games this week,” Selvaggio said. “We host three times this week and then we play four away next week.”
Injuries began accumulating in March and that played a factor in Wheaton Academy’s slow start through its first five games (1-3-1).
“After spring break we’re finally healthy,” Selvaggio said. “We’ve settled in and really look confident in our possession and in an attack which has been more and more dynamic and exciting. (April) has been a good month so far.”
Geneva transfer Rebecca Schulenburg (6 goals, 7 assists) has been a huge spark in the middle and the attack for the Warriors.
“She’s been involved in almost every one of our goals,” Selvaggio said. “She’s settled in nicely into our system of play and built chemistry with her teammates getting to know her and getting comfortable.”
The Warriors have tightened up their defensive efforts. They’ve yielded just one goal in their last four games while shutting out three-straight teams. Senior Jillian Paulson and sophomore Lexi Rojek have stepped up to lead the backline, according to Selvaggio.