OSWEGO – Oswego East’s final regular-season game lost luster earlier this week.
The Wolves, the defending Suburban Prairie Conference champions, were all set to battle it out for another conference crown when they hosted highly regarded Plainfield North on Thursday afternoon.
But Oswego East had a hiccup before battling the no. 7 ranked team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.
The Wolves finished in a 1-1 draw against fourth place Minooka in conference action Tuesday, which gave Plainfield North the outright conference title.
Now Oswego East (11-5-2, 8-1-1), which posted an undefeated, untied league mark last season, will host the Tigers (18-1-2, 10-0-0) at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday for pride in a tune-up for the Class 3A playoffs. Oswego East’s lone conference loss came in a 1-0 defeat to Plainfield South on May 18.
“With the tie on Tuesday, we are out of the conference race but we are motivated for the game,” Oswego East coach Juan Leal said. “It’s an opportunity to play an incredibly talented team right as the postseason is set to start. We can look to see where we measure up at this point and to make adjustments as we start the postseason next week.”
Leal didn’t exaggerate. Plainfield North is “an incredibly talented team.”
The Tigers don’t have just a few players committed to play in college. They have nearly an entire starting lineup’s worth of college-bound players.
The 11 targeted to play college ball are: Emma Duval, Tennessee; and Mia Davis, Toledo; Taylor Green, Bowling Green; Alex Tetteh, Eastern Illinois; Tessa Fagerson, DePaul; Georgia Liapis, Western Kentucky; Mikayla Rivera, Northern Illinois; Sophie Carlos, Wisconsin-Platteville; Jessica Stewart, Wisconsin-LaCrosse; Gabriella Mattio, Wisconsin-Oshkosh; and Maggie Hamilton, Loras.
The Tigers’ talent is also reflected in their goal-differential, which is a staggering 116-4. That includes a 10-game tally of 74-0 in conference.
Defending 3A state champion Metea Valley scored twice against the Tigers in a draw March 21 in the Wheaton North Kickoff Classic. Naperville North (1-1 tie April 6) and Waubonsie Valley (8-1 win in the Plainfield Classic April 12) are the only other teams to score against the them.
Plainfield North’s only loss came in a shootout, after a scoreless regulation run, against currently 12th-ranked Geneva in the Plainfield Classic championship match April 15.
Tigers coach Katie Monterosso, whose team enters its final league match on an eight-game win streak, said her team was happy to clinch the league crown.
“We have been chasing a conference title since I took over the program,” she said. “We have been wanting to bring that back to Plainfield North. Being able to do that in the final year with the class that I started off my coaching career at Plainfield North with as freshmen is wonderful.
“For the seniors, this has been their goal since their freshman year, so for them to achieve that is a great accomplishment. This team is focused and ready to tackle whatever gets thrown at us. The playoffs are a different animal and mindset when you don’t have a tomorrow to look at.”
With the conference race locked up by Plainfield North, it will be interesting how both coaches handle playing their starters and reserves Thursday. The regular-season finale is a nonfactor in the standings, but could be viewed in the lens of building momentum for the playoffs.
The Tigers were awarded the no. 2 seed in the Class 3A East Aurora Sectional, where they open up against the 15th-seeded hosts in a Bolingbrook Regional semifinal at 5 p.m. on May 16.
Oswego East, the no. 6 seed in the sectional, battles 11-seed Plainfield East in an East Aurora Regional semifinal at 6 p.m. on May 15.
Monterosso said her players are ready for the challenge of the playoffs. The Tigers set a single-season program record with their 16th shutout win against Joliet West on May 4.
“The majority of the team has been a unit for the last four years,” she said. “They are very intrinsically motivated to do well, both individually and as a team. Against Oswego East, we have to play our game with high intensity and communicate.”
Leal said Plainfield North represents a good measuring stick for his team.
“We are going to have to stay together defensively and be disruptive in the build-up of play,” Leal said. “We just have to go out and play with confidence. Winning the 50/50 balls will help. We just have to be aggressive. The defense has to communicate and track their players. They will have to be on their A game and make sure to ask for help from the midfielders when in a counterattack.”
As the regular-season winds down, Leal made a point to note the consistent play of midfielder Anya Gulbrandsen, goalie Sam McPhee, midfielder Ashley Gumm and midfielder Morgan Hoffman.
“Anya has been stellar since she was moved to the forward position,” he said. “It has opened up an opportunity for others to step up in the midfield. Sam McPhee has been great in the net and been an efficient communicator. Ashley Gumm has transitioned to the center mid position. She has excelled and grown confident in her abilities. Morgan Hoffman has been great on the wing with her intensity and great crossing ability.”