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Preview story: Benet set for challenging tournament tune-up vs. Kaneland

By Matt LeCren, 05/10/23, 5:15PM CDT


Benet coach Gerard Oconer wanted his team to get a good test going into the Class AA state playoffs.

He’ll get one when Kaneland comes to town for a nonconference match at 5 p.m. Thursday in Lisle.

It will be the regular-season finale for both teams, whose state tournament seeds could lead to a Nazareth Sectional semifinal showdown May 23.

“They are usually pretty tough defensively, a physical team,” Oconer said. “They make you work for everything that you get, so we’re expecting a pretty close game.

“It will kind of be a good test to try to get a preview of what’s coming ahead for us in the state tournament.”

The Knights (12-4-0) have on Interstate Eight Conference opponents, going 8-0-0 in league play with a 53-2 goal differential. Their nonconference losses came in succession against Warren, Belleville West, St. Joseph’s Academy (Mo.) and Notre Dame (Quincy).

Senior forward Brigid Gannon leads Kaneland with 27 goals and 11 assists. 

“She is a strong, athletic forward,” Oconer said of Gannon. “If you make a mistake and get caught in transition, she can certainly make you pay.”

Emily Kunzer has added 14 goals and 12 assists for Kaneland, while fellow junior Jade Schrader has produced 13 goals and seven assists.

“And they’re usually very organized defensively, very strong and physical,” Oconer said. “Last year they made it pretty tough on us, and we got away with a 1-0 win in the last couple minutes of the game.”

Benet (14-4-0), which is ranked 14th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, hasn’t made many mistakes while playing 11 matches against Class 3A teams.

“Our defense has been pretty rock solid all year,” Oconer said. “We don’t give up too many clear-cut opportunities.

“It makes a difference to have good, strong senior leadership down the middle, especially defensively with Reese MacDonald in the midfield, Sadie Sterbenz in the back and Shannon Clark behind them. It’s a really nice backbone to have and certainly we feel like we’re in any game.”

The Redwings don’t have a dominant scorer, but they have a deep roster of talented players who are capable. Freshman forward Ivana Vukas leads the East Suburban Catholic Conference champions with nine goals and five assists, while senior forward Abby Casmere is next with eight goals and a team-high nine assists.

Benet has had 19 different players find the back of the net, 14 of whom have tallied at least twice. Even Oconer can’t predict who will play a starring role.

“We’re going to need our best players to really stand out and be difference-makers for us in the state tournament,” Oconer said. “It is nice that it is really hard to focus on any one particular player that we have.

“It could be anybody on any given day, but we need our best players to step up in the crucial moments once the state tournament starts.”

This will be the final home game for Benet seniors Casmere, Clark, Sterbenz, MacDonald, Rachel Burns, Brinkley Douglas, Gabi DiMatteo, Calista Wold, Shelby Flynn and Caitlin Conway. They’ll want to end on a win, but that isn’t the only consideration for Oconer.

“You always want to go into the postseason playing well,” Oconer said. “You also want to be smart about matching minutes so we have fresh legs going into the state tournament.

“We’re trying to balance the two out because obviously we want to be able to still win, but we have bigger goals ahead of us, so we want to be smart about how we do that.”