RIVER FOREST -- Fenwick junior midfielder Grace Kapsch is one of the few returning players from last season’s fourth place Class AA team.
With 11 players gone from the squad that brought home the school’s third piece of state hardware, the Friars figured to be in for some bumpy times as new players found their roles. That transpired with four losses to open the season. However, Fenwick seems to be slowly rounding into form, if a three-match unbeaten streak and convincing 5-2 Senior Day victory over Girls Catholic Athletic Conference rival Providence Catholic on Thursday, are any indication.
“I definitely think we’re starting to jell at the right time,” said Kapsch, who had a natural hat-trick in the second half to break the game open. “We started off a little slow, but we’re picking it up. We’ve tied some really good teams lately, and I think we’re going to make a good state run.”
Despite missing several players due to injuries, Fenwick (4-8-4, 1-1-2) largely controlled the play for the vast majority of the contest. In the first half, the Friars kept Providence (6-14-1, 1-4-0) hemmed in on its side of the pitch. Celtics goalkeeper Janet Vinci stood tall early and made a pair of nice saves.
Fenwick finally broke through in the 16th minute when junior defender and co-captain Maddie Rogowski fed a streaking Mia Cello over the middle. The senior midfielder’s shot beat Vinci for a 1-0 lead.
Almost nine minutes later, Fenwick doubled its advantage. Junior midfielder Susy Shank picked up a loose ball and shot past Vinci’s right side.
“I had a breakaway in the middle, and I just decided to take it down because I saw some open space,” Shank said. “I did a few moves around some defenders, and it was just me and the goalie. I knew that I could just kick it to one of the (net) corners, and I just took the shot.”
Shank, who attended Oak Park and River Forest for freshman year, has felt welcomed by the cross-town rival Friars. She appreciates her experiences at both schools.
“Both programs are super strong and have great teams,” she said. “I have nothing bad to say about OPRF, and it was nice to see them again when we played earlier this year. It was nice to see familiar faces, and it was a good game.”
After deferring to the six seniors who started on their day, Kapsch took over in the second half. In the 44th minute, junior midfielder Fiona Roche streaked down the right side and fed Kapsch in the middle of the box. The finish gave Fenwick a 3-0 lead.
Just over five minutes later, Kapsch found a loose ball, danced around a couple of Providence defenders, and rocketed a ball past Vinci for another goal and a 4-0 Friars advantage.
Kapsch completed her feat in the 62nd minute when she took a feed from senior midfielder Katie Buckley and scored into the left side of the net. It was her second hat-trick of the season; she scored every goal in a 3-0 nonconference victory March 30 at University (Chicago).
“It felt really good,” said Kapsch, who has a team-leading 12 goals this spring. “I thought in the first half I was a little slow. I was taking some bad touches trying to get my senior teammates to score. Then in the second half, I took my own shots, and it worked out.”
The Friars’ defenders, led by Rogowski in tandem with freshman Lola Martinez, sophomore Alex Ballinger and senior Victoria Demediak, continually thwarted any attempts at offensive attacks from Providence and forced numerous turnovers at midfield. But the visitors never gave up and were finally rewarded for their perseverance when freshman forward Alyssa Thulin found an opening and beat Fenwick goalkeeper Morgan Fisher for a goal with 14:20 remaining in the match.
In the 75th minute, Thulin hit the crossbar. Her classmate and forward Jenna Chentnik picked up the rebound and drilled it past a diving Fisher to conclude the scoring.
“It’s not even just offense, Alyssa is so defensively sound,” said Providence assistant coach Caitlin Shanahan, who filled in for head coach Dan Potempa. “She’s really the heart of the team as a freshman, and it’s exciting to have her for three more years to grow and build on this.”
Shanahan was also proud of the fight her team showed.
“They’ve consistently proven themselves as a second half team,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve gone down early and responded every single time. They’re a phenomenal group of girls, and they never quit.”
In Chentnik, Thulin, and Maggie Wolniakowski, Providence has three freshmen to serve as the foundation for the next three years.
“Alyssa’s doing a great job,” Shanahan said. “We call her and Maggie ‘The Freshman Connection,’ because they both consistently show up. Most of our goals have been from the two of them.”
Shanahan also noted the strong effort in goal from Vinci, a senior who’s described as the rock of the Celtics.
“Janet’s one of the best communicators on this team,” she said. “Most importantly, she keeps the girls’ spirits high and picks everyone up when they’re down.”
With the state tournament on the horizon, both teams want to build momentum. Shanahan feels Providence needs to continue to build its defensive structure and eliminate breakdowns.
“We also need to make sure we’re taking shots (offensively),” she added. “The more shots we take, the more goals we have.”
As for Fenwick, Kapsch believes that the Friars need to keep their momentum.
“I think everyone’s starting to play with chemistry, and everything’s starting to click,” she said.
Shank feels Fenwick has steadied itself and is prepared to have a good finish to the regular-season and a deep run in the playoffs.
“After losing a lot of seniors from last year, we had to rebuild the program,” she said. “Once we figured out our roles, we started playing better. The thing we need to work on is holding it defensively while also building our offense. We have a real good backline, but we need to work on getting those goals in and getting wins instead of ties.”
Fenwick continues its five-game, regular-season-ending homestand with its final league match against Loyola at noon Saturday.
Providence travels to Marist for a 10 a.m. game Saturday.
GK: Janet Vinci
D: Hailey Wagner
D: Erica Winjum
D: Emma Winjum
D: Natalie DeMoor
MF: Grace Ryan
MF: Alyssa Thulin
MF: Abbey O’Brien
MF: Grace Spesia
MF: Gabriella Savarino
F: Maggie Wolniakowski
GK: Morgan Fisher
D: Maddie Rogowski
D: Victoria Demediak
D: Ellie Dvorak
MF: Susie Shank
MF: Mia Cello
MF: Anastasia Lerma
MF: Fiona Roche
MF: Katie Buckley
MF: Grace Kapsch
F: Kiera Mullarkey
Chicagoland Soccer MVP or the Match: Grace Kapsch, jr., MF, Fenwick
FENWICK: Mia Cello (Maddie Rogowski), 16th minute
FENWICK: Susie Shank (unassisted), 25th minute
FENWICK: Grace Kapsch (Fiona Roche), 44th minute
FENWICK: Grace Kapsch (unassisted), 49th minute
FENWICK: Grace Kapsch (Katie Buckley), 62nd minute
PROVIDENCE: Alyssa Thulin (unassisted), 66th minute
PROVIDENCE: Jenna Chentnik (Alyssa Thulin), 75th minute