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Preview story: Barrington, Hersey to decide Mid-Suburban League champion

By Mike Garofola, 05/09/23, 11:00PM CDT


The Barrington-Hersey rivalry in the Mid-Suburban League Soccer Cup is an historic one. The two clubs have made a combined 27 appearances in the league championship. This trip makes it an unprecedented 11 straight for the Fillies, who lead the league with 17 overall appearances.

Last year, the Fillies beat Prospect 2-1 to win their 10th-consecutive Soccer Cup and 14th in program history. Manager Mike Rusniak’s Hersey club is back for the first time since 2019.

The 33rd edition of the Cup begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hersey.

"To play is a special opportunity," said Rusniak, who also does a marvelous job as the manager of the Huskies boys’ program. “The atmosphere is so unique, especially with the all-conference awards at halftime. The big crowd makes it all such an incredible experience for both teams.

"For myself, it's a sense of pride I have for the dedication the girls have had this season in their quest to be the team to represent the MSL East in this game, and for my staff, who have both played in this game. They know how awesome playing in the Cup is, and how exciting it is to be a team here on a night like this."

Huskies assistant Kirsten Gierman, an all-state central defender, starred on the 2008 and 2009 squads that advanced into the final. Assistant coach Samantha (Sam) Reiff played in the league final while at Barrington, before moving on to play at Wheaton College.

Barrington will be ready for yet another defense of the travelling trophy, though the only mileage on it for the past decade is from the trophy to the field where the game is played and back to Barrington.

"When we set our goals for the season, one of them is to play in the MSL Soccer Cup,” said Fillies manager Ryan Stengren. “It's something we prepare for, something we are proud to be a part of.” 

The MSL West Division champion Fillies (16-0-2, 10-0-1) posted a victory over these same Huskies on the final day of the league schedule to again dash the hopes of longtime rival Fremd, which kept pressure on them at every step of the league season. 

"Steve (Keller, Fremd manager) did a fantastic job all year with a really talented team who matched every win (and) really made our girls work hard for everything they earned," said Stengren.

Both clubs finished with 10 wins and a tie in the league race. Barrington went through on the fourth criteria: most wins by two-goal margins or more. The Fillies took all their wins in that manner; Fremd took seven.

Hersey (11-6-1, 8-2-1) is happy to host the Cup at Roland Goins Stadium. The Huskies were powered by the additions of Notre Dame-bound Meg Mrowicki (26 goals) and freshman Gracie Lisota (18) and recorded 52 goals overall.

The dynamic duo up-top has also helped bring together a young roster around veterans Abi Beck, Anni Caliendo, Ava Cismoski, Faith Sena and Natalie Suto who have helped lead the way with their play and leadership.

"It's been a fun year, and one that I am really glad to be a part of," said the 5-foot-10 Mrowicki, who returned from club for her senior season.

Barrington came off of a grueling two weeks of soccer to achieve success. It began with four games in four days, the last three coming at the Naperville Invitational where their quarterfinal and semifinal games were decided in shootouts. The final against St. Charles North took place with just a 12-hour turnaround.

The Fillies prevailed 1-0 on a Roos VanRoekel header. They played three games in four days last week. The 3-1 defeat of Hersey on May 6 sent them through to the Soccer Cup.

"There were a lot of intense games of soccer for us these past two weeks," said a proud Stengren. “This is a team that has an incredible work ethic, dedication, a desire to be better than its last time out -- whether in training or in a game. Their focus that is something I really appreciate.”

That commitment to excellence was never more evident than last weekend. The club arrived back at the campus well after 9 p.m. on May 5 following a 4-0 victory at Elk Grove. They were back to do prep work Saturday morning.

"We still had to do a walk-through in advance of our (1 p.m.) game with Hersey,” Stengren said. “The girls were absolutely laser focused on the task at hand -- never complaining despite the long day. It's one of the things I love about this group."

The roster loves the way program is run.

"The attention to detail, and (Stengren's) approach in terms of preparation is unmatched," said senior Brooke Brown, who wears the captain’s armband proudly with teammate Ellie Sanchez.

"The Naperville invite took a lot out of all of us,” added Sanchez. “We've got some injuries we're dealing with because of it. But all of us are prepared for whatever comes our way, and all of us are thrilled to be playing for the Cup."

Brown (11 goals, 11 assists) and Sanchez, both Chicagoland Soccer All-Staters, remain among the best at their positions in Illinois. So is fellow all-stater Piper Lucier (11 goals). Impact players Sarah Sarnowski (13 goals), Kate Lubinsky (6 goals) and junior Maddy Ziebarth (7 goals), who has stepped into the six position magnificently, make their presences felt.

Sophomore keeper Megan Holland (0.58 goals-against average, seven shutouts) leads a deep and talented trio of keepers. For Hersey, Alli Paulsen (0.76 GAA, eight shutouts) gives her club quality between the sticks.

"Hersey is very talented, and as you saw last Saturday, they play with a lot of energy, fight, and all with a great work-rate,” said Stengren. “We'll need to be ready to play right from the start of the game in order to compete."

Rusniak remembers when his team put it all together. 

"I believe it was our loss to Fremd (April 14) that really motivated us to be better defensively, stay focused, and locked in mentally at all points of the game," he said.

"After that game, the girls became closer as a team, and really made a promise to each other that they would step up their efforts to play consistently in each game moving forward."