Fans are sure to be in for a treat when Downers Grove North welcomes Downers Grove South to Carstens Field at noon Saturday for their annual cross-town classic.
But as much as both teams will want to win, don’t expect either side to show their hand. Downers Grove North coach Brian Papa and Downers Grove South mentor Chris Hernandez are in agreement that the nonconference match is a warm-up for a possible playoff showdown.
Downers Grove sides South (12-3-1) and North (9-7-2) are seeded fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Class 3A Reavis Sectional. The rivals could meet in the Addison Trail Regional final May 19.
“My big concern right now is (Saturday) is not the important game,” Papa said. “It is if we play them in the regional finals – that’s the one I want.”
The Trojans will celebrate Senior Day, so Papa intends to start only seniors.
“They’re going to get about the first 20 minutes,” Papa said. “But it’s a senior-dominated team.”
Hernandez, a Downers Grove South graduate, is no stranger to the pageantry and competitiveness of the rivalry. But like Papa, he sees a bigger picture.
“Those cross-town games are fun; they’re special,” Hernandez said. “They’re a unique atmosphere that makes high school sports so memorable. I still remember my cross-town games when I played at DGS.
“But those rivalry games, anything can happen, especially with it being Senior Night and another layer being we could potentially see each other two weeks later. It gives a special little extra sense to this game.
“I think Papa and I are probably feeling the same way. The big one we’re focusing on is the regional. I’m sure both teams are going to be a little cautious about what we show in the game on Saturday. But it will be a good one.”
It usually is. The Trojans enter as the underdog, but figure to be dangerous after coming around following a four-game losing streak early in the season.
The losses came against Naperville North, Lyons, Neuqua Valley and Lincoln-Way East. The first two are currently ranked third and eighth, respectively, in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25. Neuqua Valley was ranked 24th to start the season and Lincoln-Way East had only one loss at the time the Trojans played them.
“We’ve had a couple bumps but that’s OK,” Papa said. “We were fine, but we weren’t scoring goals.
“All of a sudden, everything started clicking, and we started playing really well. I like the way we’re playing. Barring injury, I wouldn’t want to play us the rest of the way, the way we’re playing.”
The Trojans followed the four-game skid with wins in seven of the next eight games. They’ve hit a rut since then, going 1-3-0 since then, including a 3-0 loss to Hinsdale Central on Thursday. But they have been competitive in every match and are not a team that can be overlooked.
Senior forward Kate Goray leads the attack with nine goals and four assists. Junior midfielder Kaitlyn Parker follows with seven goals and six assists. Papa also is pleased with the recent play of sophomore forward Elle Larsen and senior midfielder Ellie Watts.
“She’s kind of controlling a lot of the midfield,” Papa said of Watts. “And it’s very hard to take (Larson) off the field.”
At the other end of the field, seniors Katelyn Hennelly, Kailyn Zaroli and Ava Locker lead the defense.
North’s backline will face a stiff challenge, however, against the Mustangs, who boast 2022 Chicagoland Soccer All-State forward Emily Petring, a senior who is in even better form than she was last season, when she recorded 15 goals and 10 assists.
Petring is a generational talent who has bagged 27 goals to go with four assists. Her 67-career goals is tied with Crystal Lanski for fifth on Downers Grove South’s career-scoring list.
Had it not been for the pandemic, which cancelled her freshman season, Petring might have had a shot at surpassing record-holder Nicole Lamb, who scored 92 goals from 1994-97. The Coastal Carolina commit was just named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year.
“One of her goals coming into high school was to play athletics all four years across three sports and to potentially earn all-conference in all three sports,” Hernandez noted.
Petring has done that, excelling in volleyball and basketball as well as soccer. She was the MVP of the volleyball and basketball teams this year and is expected to be named MVP of the soccer team for the second-straight season.
Petring has had plenty of help on the pitch.
“I think collectively the team has played well in this system,” Hernandez said. “The system is designed to highlight some of our players.
“Grace Rappel has 11 assists. She is a senior that we moved from defender to attacking player. She’s had a really good year. And our backline has been fantastic.”
Indeed, the Mustangs have allowed only nine goals and junior goalkeeper Hannah Fedinec, a Loras recruit who is also climbing up Downers Grove South’s all-time lists, has posted 11 shutouts. Her work includes a half of shutout soccer against no. 2 Barrington in a Naperville Invitational group match that was stopped at half due to ice on the pitch. Barrington advanced to the knockout stage on criteria and went on to win the prestigious event.
“We’ve had some good performances, and we’ve had some performances where we’ve had to kind of grind out a win,” Hernandez said. “But I think that’s the mark of a good team. We can find ways that are not Plan A, B or C but find a way to make it work.”
Will it work against Downers Grove North? Perhaps, but Papa has confidence in his team.
“I still think we’re going to be fine,” Papa said. “(The Mustangs) are sound, and they’re having a great year, but I like my girls.
“I’m not going to trade them; and I really like the way they’re playing.”