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Season recap: Fenwick

By Bill McLean, 06/18/23, 11:15PM CDT


Fenwick’s final 8-10-5 record certainly looks a shade shy of so-so. 


Don’t let the numbers fool you.


Exactly half of the Friars’ wins came in the Class AA state playoffs during an impressive run — as an under-appreciated no. 7-seed — to Elite Eight status that ended at the De La Salle Supersectional.


The Friars went winless the first 11 days of the season but coach Craig Blazer didn’t panic. He was playing the long game.


“New season, new backline, new goalkeeper (freshman Margaret Price), at the start, new everything,” said Blazer, who saw 11 seniors, including six starters, graduate after a fourth place state finish in 2022. 


After two games, the coach moved midfielder Leah Hyland back in net. The junior had proven adept at the position after jumping in for her debut and spot duty during the previous season.


Price was moved to the JV to season her as a prep goalkeeper. In that position, she helped the program win the GCAC tournament championship. 


“We were a work in progress, dealing with many changes and various challenges,” Blazer said. “Our 2-0 loss at Rosary (March 21 that opened Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division play and left the team 0-3-0) deflated the girls, but it didn’t stop them. They knew they were better than that.” 


After a fourth-straight defeat, this time against Class 3A Maine South, the Friars earned their first point in a 2-2 league match at Mother McAuley on March 28.


Two days later, the Friars visited University (Chicago). A 3-0 victory ensued against the eventual undefeated and untied Independent School League champion. 


The results launched a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2). 


A  tough following stretch, which included a berth in the prestigious Naperville

invitational, left Fenwick at 2-8-3 after a 1-0 loss to Downers Grove South on April 27.


Still Blazer wasn’t too concerned — the degree of difficulty of his schedule was on a par with a PhD program at Harvard. 


Fenwick also absorbed losses to highly regarded Class A power IC Catholic, Class 3A stalwarts Hinsdale Central and New Trier and tied formidable AA designates Deerfield and De La Salle, which ended Fenwick’s season 2-0 May 30.


“Much of what we tried to do was to develop a strong soccer culture, all while establishing great camaraderie and soccer acumen,” said Blazer. “Playing our tough schedule led to our growth as a team.”


Fenwick turned things around with its defining run of the season — a 6-1-2 stretch. A highlight of the run came in a match that was moved due to a poor weather forecast. 


In the rare Sunday contest, Fenwick faced visiting Deerfield, which was ranked no. 8 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25. Friars junior midfielder and co-captain Fiona Roche scored in the second minute of the 1-1 tie on April 2.


“I was so proud of our team after we tied Deerfield,” recalled Roche, who contributed  three goals and two assists on the season. “That was when I felt we started to turn our season around. After that, we played really well as a team and not just individually. We started hanging out with each other outside of soccer and had sleepovers, which also helped the team chemistry.”


Fenwick junior forward, co-captain and IHSSCA All-Stater Grace Kapsch notched team highs of 17 goals and five assists. Junior midfielder Susie Shank — a transfer from Oak Park and River Forest before the start of her sophomore season — and junior center back Maddie Rogowski each earned All-Sectional honors from the coaches.


Shank finished with seven goals and six assists; Rogowski provided three assists for the offense.


Injuries to junior midfielder Gabi Kapusta and junior back Lizzie Brunick forced Blazer to shift co-captain Rogowski from midfield to center back near the midpoint of the season.


Rogowski and senior Ellie Dvorak, another captain, emerged as a pair of impactful, defensive, middle managers.


“All of our tough losses and ties prepared us well for the playoffs,” said Dvorak, who missed her sophomore season after suffering a torn right ACL in club play and underwent surgery on her left knee last summer. “Our rough start upset us and made us sad, but we knew we weren’t playing like we were capable of playing. We started to kick it into gear against a good, hard team in Hinsdale Central (April 21).


“We lost (on PKs). That result, though, lifted us.”


In the state tournament, Fenwick routed third-seeded Westinghouse 9-0 for their fourth-straight regional championship. The Friars then topped no. 2-seed Elmwood Park 3-0 in its De La Salle Sectional semifinal to set up a clash with top-seeded Payton with a supersectional berth on the line.


Each team scored once in the first minute of the May 27 final. However, Fenwick enjoyed a burst of three more first half goals, which led to its 4-1 victory and seventh sectional title.


“Every team we played in the playoffs hadn’t played a tougher schedule than we had,” Blazer said. “We had played games on big stages all season and faced all of the challenges associated with them. Our easiest stretch of games during the season was our playoff run. But Payton was an outstanding team. What a game that was.”


“We all played,” Roche said, “because we loved our teammates and the community we had built. That community got stronger during the playoffs. We were electric against Payton. None of us wanted to go home. We all wanted to go to state again.”


But De La Salle got revenge for Fenwick knocking them out in the same round a season earlier. The Meteors went on to take home fourth place Class AA honors.


“That loss really hurt,” Roche continued. “But, in the end, I learned so much from this season, and I made so many new friendships. This also gave me motivation to come back next year and go to state. I want to accomplish this so bad with my team next year.


“I am so proud of what we achieved this season and so, so excited to see where the future will take us.”


For Blazer, who had a blast training and coaching his crew during the 2023 season, the road to a successful 2024 began as soon as the final horn sounded at De La Salle last month.


“Our returning players have to invest in a growth mindset,” he said. “I’m confident they will do that.”






Dvorak plans to major in information systems at the University of Wisconsin. Her mother, Mary Beth, and brother John are Badgers graduates. Her brother Luke will begin his senior year at Madison this fall. … Blazer served as the men’s coach at DePaul University from 2001-2017. … Fenwick won its 11th regional and seventh sectional in program history this spring. … Kapsch, Rogowski and Shank made the all-Girls Catholic Athletic Conference team. … Fenwick’s goal differential of 38-30 in 2023 included a 17-3 gap in its memorable 4-1 playoff run. … Fenwick senior reserve midfielder Katie Buckley scored only one goal this spring (to go with three assists), but it triggered quite a celebration on the field and along the sideline. Buckley netted the second goal in Fenwick’s 2-1 defeat of host Sandburg in the team’s final Naperville Invitational match April 29. “She kicked a beautiful volley to an upper corner,” Dvorak said. “We were all excited and so proud of her, because she had worked so hard ahead of the season. She received a lot of hugs after that goal.” Blazer remembered the eruption from Buckley’s teammates more than anything else. “The whole team let out a euphoric yelp when she scored,” he said. “That was such a great moment for Katie.” … Fenwick sophomore forward Kiera Mullarkey totaled three goals and two assists this spring, while classmate Mia Hernandez, another forward, scored a pair of goals. … Blazer, on Fenwick freshmen Mary Brunick, a midfielder, and Lola Martinez, a back: “Both have soccer in them, with quickness and good skill sets.” … Fenwick’s outgoing senior class includes contributors midfielders Mia Cello and Anastasia Lerma, defender Victoria Demidiak and goalkeeper Morgan Fisher. … Dvorak, who delivered a moving speech at the team banquet earlier this month, deserves the final word: “Keep an eye on Fenwick next year,” she said.