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Feature story: Kapsch sisters drive Fenwick to success

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 07/22/23, 2:30PM CDT


Kapsch sisters’ feature
By Patrick Z. McGavin

As the point guard on the Fenwick basketball team, junior Grace Kapsch took special pleasure in her roles as a playmaker and shot distributor.

Standing 5-foot-9 with excellent court vision, her creativity and ability to find open shooters directed the offense.

She was the connective thread of the offense while averaging a near double-double. 

But she wasn't the only Kapsch on the floor that opponents had to worry about. She made sure her sisters, sophomore fraternal twins Keira and Clare Kapsch, were in the mix.

In the biggest moment of the Friars basketball season, Grace started the game-winning sequence.

She found Keira set up on the wing for an open 3-pointer. The younger Kapsch did the rest, knocking down the shot that broke the final tie of the game en route to third-seeded and visiting Fenwick's stunning 34-28 upset victory over top-seeded host Trinity in the Class 3A sectional championship game.

What could the sisters do for an encore? Weeks later they got back together on the Friars soccer pitch and combined to create more magic.

Grace was again the engine.

Compare two pictures in time, captured at the same place over a few weeks apart, which documented the life of a breakout soccer player.

On a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in late April at Fenwick’s Priory Campus in River Forest, Grace Kapsch worked the left side of the field. The game was a marquee showdown against Girls Catholic Athletic League cross-over and Class AA foe De La Salle.

“I am not afraid to be aggressive,” she said. “I like getting touches out of the air, and being able to control the ball and being a facilitator.

“I have good field vision, and I can make plays happen.”

Catching the ball on the left wing, Kapsch made a quick, jitter step with the ball and created just enough space to hammer home a shot for a textbook goal. The 67th-minute score earned a tie with the eventual state fourth place team. 

Flash forward to the first Saturday in May, on the same field, where Kapsch confronted Red Division rival and perennial champion Loyola.

The forward had several brilliant scoring chances at the start of each half against the Ramblers’ two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State keeper Ellie Bradley.

But a combination of the keeper's sudden reaction-time, the way the ball played off the forward's foot and a Ramblers' squad that was ranked 27th in the state in the Chicagoland Final 50 conspired against Kapsch in the eventual 2-0 loss.

“My style is quick, and I like to get everyone involved,” Kapsch said. “I am not always trying to take it myself. I am consistently looking for the through-pass or the overlap.

“I like to take advantage of defenders with my speed and athleticism.”

Individual success and failure can be hard to categorize. Every game is a collage woven into a larger fabric. The De La Salle game, it turned out, looked simultaneously backward and forward.

The game was a rematch of the Class AA supersectional between the teams that Fenwick won 4-2 in a shootout after 100 minutes of scoreless soccer en route to a fourth place 2022 state finish.

The Loyola game marked a kind of reckoning, as Kapsch and her teammates suffered frustration of tough regular-season (4-6-5) and league (1-2-2) records. But simultaneously, the Friars believed the learning curve and hard times could become benefits for the playoffs.

“Nobody else in our sectional had played the 3A teams we have,” said Kapsch, whose presence as a galvanizing force led the Friars on a spirited playoff run.

Fenwick equaled its regular-season performance with four victories in five state tournament matches.

Kapsch punctuated the run with a goal and two assists in seventh-seeded Fenwick's 4-1 victory over top-seeded Payton in the De La Salle Sectional championship.

The performance punctuated the gigantic leap she made in her junior year. As a high-energy midfielder in her sophomore season, she came off the bench and finished the season with a goal and three assists.

This year’s team was unmistakably led by the consistently improving forward.

Kapsch earned Chicagoland Soccer All-State honors after scoring 17 goals and registering five assists.

“Grace is not only an amazing athlete, but she is also very intelligent,” recently graduated defender Ellie Dvorak said. “She was on our math team that won state last year, and they also did very well this year.

“She is the type who gets right back up after being pushed down. I have never seen her quit anything she does. Her determination is not unnoticed by the rest of the team, and that is one of the main reasons we voted her (a) captain.”

Grace is the third of five children, but the oldest of the soccer players. 

Keira and Clare debuted on the varsity in 2023. Keira had four goals and three assists. Dealing with an injury, Clare saw limited time and contributed an assist.

“We have an older sister who just graduated from college, and an older brother who is now a senior in college,” Grace Kapsch said.

“They are inspiring, and they encourage me to keep going and be the best player and overall person I can be.”

The soccer sisters benefit from the pairing of the sports. The balance, footwork and use of the body to shield players and create separation are a few of the connecting threads.
“Grace has improved every year, and it is going to be exciting to see her level of play for her senior year,” Fenwick coach Craig Blazer said. 

“She is a great competitor. Playing basketball has really helped her soccer.”

Last season, the dynamic Henige-sister combination powered the Friars’ attack. Two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater Kate, a 2022 graduate, was one of Illinois' top players and led the team in scoring with 20 goals and seven assists.

When sister Caroline Henige, who scored 12 goals and recorded three assists on the state team, decided to play club ball last spring, the Kapschs became Fenwick soccer's first family.

“Honestly, one of my favorite things was being able to play with my sisters every game,” Grace Kapsch said. “We have a great dynamic on and off the field.

“Many seniors left after last season, leaving a lot of holes in the lineup. The coaches told me I was going to take the empty, forward spot." 

Meanwhile, the twins could take their time and learn how to adapt to the speed, power and physical play of the varsity game.

Like their older sister, the twins balance elite size with sharp decision-making and athleticism.

“As the oldest of the three of us, Grace is a natural leader,” Keira said. “She is extremely encouraging and very passionate both on and off the field.

“She wants us to be the best versions of ourselves and helps us anyway that she can.”

Her manner and method naturally color the play and activity of her younger sisters, who worked hard to fit in and establish their own personality and style of play.

“We are both aggressive and like taking the headers and stepping up to the ball,” Clare said. “Keira started out as a defender, so she carries those same qualities to the game, no matter the position. She is looking to clear the ball, and begin to create momentum for the team to push the ball up the field.”

The sisters achieved an admirable IHSA sports double -- qualifying for supersectionals in both basketball and soccer.

The Friars lost to eventual Class 3A state basketball champion Nazareth.

“This was the first year we played together on the varsity in both basketball and soccer,” Keira said.                                                                                                                       

“Coming off a successful basketball season where we all played dynamically, we were excited for that to continue into soccer.”

Like basketball, the soccer season ended a step before the state finals. The Friars fell to De La Salle 2-0 in the Meteors' supersectional.

As a seven-seed, Fenwick was far and away the lowest seeded team to reach the Final 16 in either AA or 3A.

“We had a bit of a tough start to the season, but it was rewarding to see the hard work we put in at practice carry over to the games,” Grace said.

“We started to connect more and create more chemistry. We are returning a lot of the same people next season, so we have a year to work together.”

With just one class separating the three sisters, they seem like a set of triplets. The trio are ebullient, upbeat and uber-competitive.

“It will be interesting to see what happens with the twins,” Blazer said. “As of right now, they don’t quite have the natural athleticism as Grace. They have the same competitiveness.”

All sports have subtleties and variations of a movement. Grace is Fenwick's leader, but hersisters are not followers.

Twins being naturally competitive and prickly about their own identity, Keira and Clare are eager to be seen on their own terms.

“We are pretty similar to each other personality-wise, school-wise and sports-wise,” Keira Kapsch said. “This causes us to butt heads sometimes, but ultimately it helps us push each other and succeed.”

The summer is a crucial time for development in both soccer and basketball.

The three are busy playing club basketball and soccer, and also playing with the Fenwick summer programs in each sport.

That is the natural way of the three. This year was just the start.

“We have had an inseparable bond since we were little,” Grace Kapsch said. “We did most things together, and we have learned to work as a trio.

“It has carried us on the field, and we have worked very well together.”