By Michael Wojtychiw
RIVER FOREST – Fenwick started off the 2023 season in a manner it hadn’t been used to recently. The Friars dropped their first four games and followed that up with a tie – and in each game they surrendered at least two goals.
After graduating double-digit seniors from last year’s team that took fourth place in Class AA, a little bit of a learning curve was to be expected.
As the season wore on, that defense became tighter and more in sync.
And one of the reasons is the play of senior center back Ellie Dvorak.
“The communication has gotten so much better,” she said. “Getting all our trust with our back four and our keeper has really become key for us -- knowing that we can trust each other when playing against good and better teams.”
“We really love her competitiveness,” Fenwick manager Craig Blazer said. “She’s really shown that throughout the year, and we would not be in the situation we’re at right now without her.
“The high school season, there’s really little preparation time, and with the large number of turnover of players there’s a lot of different variables. This team just needed time to play together. It shows how coachable of a group they are. They have ability. They have potential and throughout the season have showed how they have gotten better.”
Dvorak helped Fenwick to its second-consecutive regional title, this time with a 9-0 victory over a short-handed Westinghouse squad.
“Having the experience (of winning a regional) for our young, developing team was rewarding, we needed that,” Blazer said. “Every day we’re getting better and any time we can have a game and parents and the Fenwick community can come see us play, it’s a lot of fun.”
The Friars helped cement the clean-sheet by not allowing the Warriors to get a true shot off until there was under two minutes remaining of the game, which was shortened to 61 minutes due to the mercy rule.
Dvorak has made a healthy return to the field after knee injuries the past two years and is relishing the opportunity to play with her teammates again. Because the pandemic wiped out what would have been her freshman season, this is the first true, full campaign of high school soccer she’s been able to play.
Two years ago, Dvorak missed the season due to a torn ACL in her right knee. Last year even though she had recovered from her initial injury, she was not completely healthy due to another injury, this time in her other knee.
“I was on and off in my play because of the pain, so this is my first full year back,” she said. “My second injury was a tissue pad where the knee cap and femur kept pinching, and it was really painful.
“To play without the pain, this year has been huge for me. I have a lot more confidence now, and I feel like playing with this team. We have a lot more confidence and trust in each other so we can all move the ball and work hard together.
“The hardest part about returning was the mental aspect. Telling myself ‘I can do this. I’ll be fine,’ trying to push myself past my limits. Finally thinking that I can go into a 1-v-1 without hurting my knee again was big for me.”
“She’s been a really welcome addition to the roster,” Blazer said. “Coming off of such an injury is a challenge for young players. High school players are not professional athletes. The mental component, combined with the physical one, you never know where each player is at.
“Ellie really showed us she’s a team player, a team player first. She worked really hard to put herself in this position to be successful.”
Fenwick has four captains on the team. They were chosen by both the players and coaches. It’s an honor for the players, because it’s not only the coaches that see something in them but their teammates as well. Three of the four captains are juniors.
“I was really excited, but I knew I had a big job ahead of me,” she said. “I had to take on a lot and show a lot of leadership since all the girls were looking up to me.
“I usually try to gather all the players before the games, get everyone excited, focused. Also, I like to expand on what the coaches say so the players can get a better understanding, especially coming from one of their teammates.”
“She’s really dependable and reliable,” Blazer said. “You need those seniors to have that mentality of the season being their final season and to stress the importance of enjoying every moment. When it comes from the players, it’s a lot more meaningful.
“Ellie was a unanimous choice (to be a captain) this year and has done a great job. It’s something new to her, and she’s done a great job being a leader on and off the field.”
While the defense did its job, the offense took care of business on its side of the field. The Friars scored five goals in the first 12 minutes of the game and led 6-0 at the half.
Grace Kapsch delivered a first half hat-trick to lead the offense. Susie Shank added a brace, and Finley Dondlinger dished out two of the Friars three assists.
After not playing its regional semifinal game due to Lake View’s forfeit, , Fenwick used the Westinghouse game to get a number of players playoff experience and work on several things in preparation for the sectional semifinal.
“It was important to get this one under our belts, because we’re developing our confidence, player by player,” Blazer said. “We’re going to be able to develop from it and even our training experience Saturday was an improvement as well.”
The Friars now play Elmwood Park in a sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Blazer hopes his squad can make a playoff run like it did last year.
“We’ve just got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing, playing the way we’ve been training,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Almost every team collects uniforms after they lose in the state playoffs. Westinghouse (12-5-0) is not one of them. The Warriors will face Marine Leadership on May 25 with the winner moving up to one of the Chicago Public League’s Premier divisions next spring.
Freshman sensation Jasmin Geronimo has led the team. The midfielder had exclusively played in boys competition and against family members up until her high school debut. She ranks second in the state in goals scored with 47 goals. Geronimo has scored at least one goal in 15 of the Warriors 17 games this season. The other two were shutouts.
GK: Roberta Delgado-luna
D: Judith Yam
D: Dayana Rosendo
D: Lizette Cervantes
D: Kayla Guerrero
MF: Jasmin Geronimo
MF: Gabriele Gomez
MF: Leticia Salcido
MF: Ciamar Leon
MF: Stephania Cedeno-Mata
F: Taina Green
GK: Leah Hyland
D: Lola Martinez
D: Emma Maria Bassett
D: Maddie Rogowski
D: Ellie Dvorak
MF: Fiona Roche
MF: Alex Ballinger
MF: Finley Dondlinger
MF: Mary Brunick
F: Keira Mullarkey
F: Grace Kapsch
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Ellie Dvorak, sr., D, Fenwick
Fenwick - Grace Kapsch, third minute
Fenwick - Kapsch (Finley Dondlinger), 10th minute
Fenwick - Susie Shank, 11th minute
Fenwick - Kiera Mullarkey, 13th minute
Fenwick - Kapsch, 13th minute
Fenwick - Mia Cello, 31st minute
Fenwick - Mary Brunick (Dondlinger), 42nd minute
Fenwick - Shank, 47th minute
Fenwick - Mia Kapsch (Katie Buckley), 57th minute