skip navigation

State finals preview: Class AA

By By Curt Herron, 06/01/23, 11:15PM CDT


 When a program has finished first and second in two of the last three state finals, it's wise to consider them as a contender for not only another title match appearance but also for a championship.

That's certainly the mindset of Benet and its coach Gerard Oconer, who led the Redwings to the IHSA Class AA title in 2019 and settled for second place against Triad, which repeated as state champion last season.

But another downstate program with a rich tradition, Glenwood, is also feeling good about its chances after beating Triad 5-0 in its own supersectional.

Coach Jay Lipe's Titans are assured of a ninth piece of state hardware and will attempt to add a companion piece to the state championship trophy that they won in 2013. Glenwood has played in the title match on four occasions. The last of those came in 2015 in the Titans' last trip to the state finals.

Two newcomers also are hoping to cap their historic seasons with championships. 

A year after falling to Fenwick in the supersectional, coach Carlos Nunez' De La Salle squad looks to see if it can add two more wins to their total. Coach Sarah Fack hopes that her Crystal Lake Central team can pull off a state title in their Final Four debut.

Competition in the Class AA championships begins on Friday at 11 a.m. with Glenwood (20-4-1) meeting De La Salle (17-3-5) at 11 a.m. at North Central College's Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium in Naperville.

Benet (20-4-0) faces Crystal Lake Central (18-3-0) in the 1 p.m. semifinal. The third place match kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday followed by the title game, which is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The Redwings advanced to the finals for the fifth time after winning 1-0 over Notre Dame (Peoria) at the Washington supersectional.

Glenwood rolled to a 5-0 victory over two-time defending champion Triad at its own supersectional in Chatham to advance.

De La Salle avenged the 1-0 supersectional loss to Fenwick a year ago with a 2-0 victory over the Friars in its own supersectional in Chicago. 

And Crystal Lake Central is headed to the state finals for the first time after capturing a 1-0 victory over Lake Forest at the Grayslake Central Supersectional.

Here's a look at the Class AA finalists:


Benet (20-4-0)

The East Suburban Catholic Conference champion Redwings hope that their tough schedule and successful showings in recent finals will help them make a third appearance in the title match and earn a second state championship since 2019.

Coach Gerard Oconer's Redwings got off to a 10-1-0 start before losing to ranked Class 3A foes Naperville North, Wheaton North and Lyons between April 22 and April 27.

But since that time, Benet is rolling. The Redwings ride a 10-match win streak into the semifinals and have only allowed three goals in that span. Eight of those wins were shutouts, which was capped by a 1-0 victory over Notre Dame (Peoria) in the Washington (Ill.) Supersectional.

Benet has recorded 17 shutouts and allowed just 13 goals this season.

Oconer is 118-24-3 in six years at his alma mater. His teams have won 18 or more matches in the last five seasons with the highlights being a 24-3-1 mark for the 2019 state champions and a 22-5-0 season in the AA runnerup run.

This is the Redwings' fifth state tournament appearance. The earliest came in 2003 and 2005 when IHSSCA Hall of Famer Henry Wind was the head coach.

Top offensive threats for Benet include freshman forward Ivana Vukas (14 goals, 10 assists), senior forward Anna Casmere (13 goals, 12 assists) and sophomore forward/midfielder Keira Petrucelli (11 goals, 11 assists).

The Redwings spread their scoring around. Other top contributors are junior midfielder Rania Fikri (8 goals, 5 assists), freshman midfielder Annie Fitzgerald (7 goals, 9 assists), senior forward Rachel Burns (5 goals, 7 assists), sophomore forward Johnna Caliendo (5 goals), senior defender Sadie Sterbenz (5 goals) and senior forward Gabi DiMatteo (8 assists). 

Senior goalkeeper Shannon Clark has an 0.54 GAA in 24 matches, and junior backup Kate Grubish hasn't allowed a goal in 10 appearances.

Seventeen players returned from last year's state-runnerup squad. The seniors who are back are midfielder Reese MacDonald, midfielder Brinkley Douglas, defender Calista Wold, Burns, Casmere, Clark, DiMatteo and Sterbenz. 

Juniors who are back from the state runner-up squad are defender Bailey Abbott, forward Ashley Donovan, defender Nora Hanson, Fikri and Grubish. And sophomores who were on last year's second place team were forward Eleanor Mahan, midfielder Lily McKenna, defender Chloe Sentman and Petrucelli. 

Receiving All-East Suburban Catholic Conference recognition were Casmere, Clark, Fikri, MacDonald, Petrucelli and Sterbenz. 

Benet's team captains are Clark, Douglas, MacDonald and Sterbenz. 

Assisting Oconer on the bench are Martin Uscila, Henry Wind, Kim Sayers, Kate Hennessy and Mariana Pinto.

"Benet returned 17 players and eight starters from the state runnerup team from last season," Oconer said. "After getting off to a great 10-1-0 start to the season, Benet battled through a rough week in the middle of the season before a season-defining 1-0 win in the last few minutes over Geneva in the Naperville Invitational. 

"We have not looked back since, winning our last 10 games by a combined score of 50-3 and having a total of 17 shutouts on the season so far. 

"Benet looks to use the experience from last season's disappointing 1-0 loss in the state championship game to Triad and take that final step toward a state championship this weekend."

De La Salle (17-3-5)
De La Salle, which was the runnerup in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference White Division, stood at 10-3-4 on May 2 but went 7-0-1 down the stretch.

In a rematch of last year's supersectional match, the Meteors turned the tables and won 2-0 over Fenwick to earn their first appearance in the IHSA finals.

Coach Carlos Nunez is 118-73-21 in 11 seasons at the school. The 2023 win total is the second-highest he's had. Last season, the Meteors finished 21-4-4.

De La Salle has recorded 14 shutouts. Six of those have come in the last seven matches, with only a single goal scored against them in the remaining game.

The top goal-scorer for the Meteors is sophomore central midfielder Sissi Loza, who has 27 goals to go with seven assists.

Other top offensive performers include junior forward Mia Ortega (13 goals, 9 assists), junior midfielder Imani Coleman (12 goals, 14 assists), freshman midfielder Dixie Zamago (11 goals, 4 assists), freshman forward Sarah Murray (7 goals, 4 assists) and sophomore midfielder Kennedi Carpenter (6 goals, 6 assists). 

Senior goalkeeper Emily Samuels has an 0.91 GAA with 71 saves to her credit.

Coleman received IHSSCA All-State recognition; freshman sweeper Sophia Tores and Loza were All-Sectional picks. All-Girls Catholic Athletic Conference White Division selections are senior defender Joanna Mullen, Coleman, Loza and Torres.

Meteors captains are seniors Mia Loza and Vicky Luna and junior Coleman.

The team's assistant coach is Francisco Martinez. 

"We are very proud to represent the (De La Salle) Institute and the City of Chicago," Nunez said. "This group has proven it can persevere. At the outset of the season, as always, there were a lot of questions that couldn't be answered in the fall. It built anticipation and expectation. 

"The last few years' experience helped shape the kind of schedule to play to prep ourselves, and the group has responded. While the team was skilled and experienced, getting the group to trust each other was a season-long process that challenged their maturity and leadership. They've come together to see what they can accomplish.  

"Each player on the roster has impacted play in one way or another throughout the season. They are a hard-working team, and we're proud to serve them as coaches."

Crystal Lake Central (18-3-0)

After getting off to a 4-3-0 start, Crystal Lake Central has been on a roll, winning 14-straight matches to help it advance to the IHSA Finals for the first time in program history.

Coach Sarah Fack's Tigers advanced to the Final Four after capturing a 1-0 victory over Lake Forest in the Grayslake Central Supersectional. 

Crystal Lake Central, which won the championship of the Fox Valley Conference, has been having a lot of success connecting for goals, collecting 59 during its current 14-match winning streak.

Fack, who is in her sixth season leading the Tigers, owns an 87-34-2 record. After winning a combined 21 matches in her first two seasons, her teams have gone 66-14-0 during the last four seasons. A year ago, her team went 16-3-0 before losing in the sectional finals to Boylan.

The top goal-scorer for the Tigers is junior forward Brooklynn Carlson, who has 17 goals to go along with nine assists.

Other top scorers are sophomore forward Lizzie Gray (12 goals, 4 assists), junior midfielder Olivia Anderson (11 goals, 5 assists), junior forward Jillian Mueller (10 goals, 13 assists), freshman forward Addison Schaffer (6 goals, 7 assists), freshman midfielder Peyton McMahon (5 goals, 4 assists), junior forward Carter Thompson (5 goals, 2 assists) and junior midfielder Maddie Gray (7 assists). 

Junior Goalkeeper Addison Cleary has a 1.05 GAA in 21 matches.

Team captains for the Tigers are seniors Katie Barth, Gwyneth Brickey and Cleary. The assistant coaches are Doug Wilbrandt, Leah Rutkowski, Alexa Barwacz and Kaitlyn Luckey.

"Getting to state has been the team’s goal since getting knocked out in PKs in the sectional finals at the conclusion of last season," Fack said. "It has been in the back of our minds since 2021 when we had a very large and talented freshman class come in on top of the talent we already had in the other classes alongside them. 

"During last year's season the players really recognized the special group of teammates they had and that state was a true possibility. The girls have worked hard and improved week by week to get to this point. We are looking forward to a couple more good games and hopefully adding some wins to our record. This is definitely a special year with a very deserving group of players and all-around great kids and supportive families."

Glenwood (20-4-1)

After capturing four-straight state trophies from 2012 to 2015 to give it eight in program history, Glenwood has had to wait a few seasons to return to the IHSA finals.

The wait is finally over and coach Jay Lipe's Titans are definitely a team on a mission after capturing their 13th-straight victory with a decisive 5-0 triumph over two-time defending state champion Triad at home in Chatham.

During their current winning streak, the Titans have recorded nine shutouts and only allowed four goals while collecting 64 goals of their own.

Glenwood, which first placed at state in 2001, is assured of its ninth trophy, which ranks it fifth all-time behind New Trier (12), St. Charles East (11), and Barrington and Naperville North (10 each).

Lipe's program won a state championship in 2013, took second place in 2005, 2012 and 2015, claimed third place in 2004, 2009 and 2014 and finished fourth in 2001. The only coach in girls soccer who has won more state trophies is New Trier's Jim Burnside with 12.

In 29 seasons of leading the program, Lipe owns a 489-127-45 record and has captured 20 or more victories for the eighth time. He has never experienced a losing season. He also went 262-93-31 in 17 seasons, and won a state title in 2005, leading Glenwood's boys.

The Titans have only lost twice to Illinois opponents: on April 1, they fell 1-0 to Notre Dame (Peoria); and April 22, when they lost 5-2 to Class 3A finalist O'Fallon. Glenwood went 0-2-1 against three St. Louis teams on April 14 and 15.

The Central State Eight Conference champions have posted 16 shutouts and allowed one goal six other times. Meanwhile, 19 of its victories have been by more than one goal.

Leading the way for the Titans is sophomore forward Rylann Law, who has scored 41 goals while adding seven assists. That's a new single-season goal record at Glenwood.

Other top scorers are sophomore forward Rowann Law (13 goals, 7 assists), sophomore midfielder Lyla Franke (8 goals, 9 assists), junior defender Haden Vlcek (8 goals, 3 assists), senior forward Savannah Bell (7 goals, 4 assists), senior forward Mia O'Neill (6 goals, 5 assists) and junior midfielder MaKenna Yeager (5 goals, 9 assists). 

Junior keeper Abi Stephens has an 0.70 GAA in 23 matches while senior Katie Bell hasn't allowed any goals in 10 matches.

Vlcek, who's committed to Indiana University, was a United Coaches Association All-Midwest Region selection. She also earned IHSSCA All-State honors along with Rylann Law and Abi Stephens. Senior defender Ali Matthews, who committed to Western Illinois, earned All-Sectional honors. 

Beside the all-region, all-state and all-sectional picks, Rowann Law, Erin Mansfield and MaKenna Yeager were all-conference selections.

Team captains are Katie Bell, Savannah Bell, Ali Matthews, Erin Mansfield, Kaleigh Meyer, Mia O'Neill, Leslie Smith and Carly Wilcoxen. Titans assistant coaches are Kyle Franke, Benjamin Winn, Jake Volker, Taylor Stefanic and Kaitlin Sullivan.

"We are very proud of our girls. This team has continued to improve throughout the season," Lipe said. "After losing to Triad two years in a row (in supersectionals), our senior group especially wanted another chance this spring.
"We lost five seniors from 2022, one varsity player moved away and a final varsity player decided to run track. The returning players worked hard through the offseason with their goal to make it to the state tournament. The girls went undefeated in our conference and battled through a tough nonconference schedule. It has truly been a total team effort to get to this point."