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Season recap: Fremd

By Bill McLean, 10/26/23, 5:45PM CDT


Fremd coach Steve Keller wore out his lab coat — a figurative one — this fall.

“Lots of experimenting, lots of different lineups and formations,” the Vikings’ 26th-year helmsman said of his 2023 edition, which finished 5-9-4 overall and 4-4-3 (fourth place, Mid-Suburban League West Division). 

“Definitely,” he added, “a rebuilding year.”

Keller’s varsity roster included seven sophomores, a freshman and only two Vikings — senior goalkeeper Bennett Ash and junior midfielder Kyle Grasse — who had seen significant match minutes in 2022.

Ash and sophomore back Stefan Smolak earned All-MSL honors, and that lone prep rookie, electric forward Jose Hernandez, tied junior forward Nate Schmeling for the team high in goals scored with four.

Hernandez, who netted a brace in Fremd’s 3-2, double-overtime defeat of Wheeling on Sept. 19, also provided an assist this season. Grasse struck for two goals and delivered a pair of assists. 

“Many got their first taste of varsity action,” Keller said. “My hope is that they learned a lot along the way. With so many newcomers, I was eager to see how we’d look against teams early on. We didn’t create a lot of offense for most of the season, but that should improve next year when we’ll likely connect better and play with more cohesiveness. 

“What was encouraging to me, and what opponents found out, was how stingy we were and how tough it was to break us down.”

Co-captain keeper Ash stood out — and flew to the left and to the right -- while making daredevilish saves. He finished with 114 saves, five shutouts and a deceptively pedestrian 1.8 goals-against average.

“Nobody could have stopped 90 percent of the goals Bennett allowed,” Keller figured. “His spectacular saves kept us in games. He’s extremely athletic and a special talent. Hard-working, too. Great kid, great personality. And he’s fun to be around.”

Ash’s father, Wade, played right back at Hoffman Estates. Bennett’s mother, Kerri, competed in basketball at the prep level and received offers to continue her hoops career in college.

The couple’s son, who succeeded two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State goalkeeper Robby Remien (Class of '23) and will soon protect nets for FC United in Vernon Hills, certainly deserves to stop shots on college campuses the next four years. 

“He’d like to continue playing,” Keller said. “We’ll call around for him.”

Ash was on hand to watch both Class 3A Fremd Sectional semifinals Tuesday. The lad can’t get enough of the sport.

He looked back at Fremd’s season during the break between the semis.

“I had a great time getting to know our young players this season,” Ash said. “They all rose to the occasion.”

Smolak soared, no matter where Keller deployed him – a strong midfielder, be it in the attacking or holding vein. But Keller felt the soph could be most effective at either center back or sweeper.

Smolak played both positions late in the season.

“Great talent,” Keller said. “Stefan was eager to improve. He’s good in the air, smart defensively. He stabilized us in the back and kept us organized.”

“Stefan,” Ash added, “definitely deserved making the All-MSL team. I found out how good of a player he is when both of us played on the same team at summer camp in Indiana.”

The 14th-seeded Vikings saw their season end with a 5-0 loss at the host school in a 3A Stevenson Regional semifinal on Oct. 17. Stevenson — ranked no. 10 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 — was seeded third. The Patriots, who finished third in Class 3A last fall, bowed out of the state tournament after a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Mid-Suburban League champion Palatine on Tuesday night at Fremd.

The Vikings’ most memorable win of the season was their 2-1 defeat of visiting Schaumburg on Oct. 6, and not just because it came against an opponent that had sat atop the MSL table for a stretch. Fremd was coming off a 4-0 loss to Buffalo Grove and a 5-0 setback to Palatine in the annual Kinsella Cup tilt.

“We were kind of reeling leading up to the Schaumburg game,” Keller recalled.

Hernandez scored the game-winner in the 79th minute against the Saxons. Fremd had trailed 1-0 in minute 47.

Vikings senior back Bennett Boghossian had to watch the action at his house via a live stream. Three days earlier, he had undergone surgery to repair a torn left ACL incurred against Hoffman Estates on Sept. 12.

“That was exciting,” Boghossian said of the victory, not the medical procedure. “I was cheering from home.

“Our team,” he continued, “looked better as the season progressed. I noticed the improved chemistry. Coach Keller did a very good job determining the best lineup for each game. Nobody knew what to expect when they played us, because we were so young, but it didn’t take teams long to notice our talent.” 

Boghossian was asked to pick Fremd’s unsung hero in the 2023 season. He chose two instead.

“(Senior midfielder/defender) Cameron Williams and (junior midfielder) Fede D’Antonio,” Boghossian said. “They gave it their all whenever they were out there. Each guy has skills and a tremendous work ethic.”

Williams, Boghossian and Ash were three of the eight Fremd seniors on varsity. Chace Cheripka (D), Erik Mihai (D), Paul Choi (F), Joe Temple (MF) and Omar Abdalla (F) also finished their prep careers on the big club.

Mihai had played club soccer in his first three years of high school.

“It was a dedicated group of seniors,” Keller said. “I hope Erik got a lot out of playing for his school. I’m sure it gave him a different perspective.”


Fremd went 1-2-2 vs. MSL West foes this fall. … Keller, on having just completed his 26th boys season at Fremd: “I’m a dinosaur.” Stevasaurus rex also head coaches girls soccer at Fremd. …. An Indiana University graduate, Keller attended the Hoosier men’s soccer match at Northwestern on Tuesday. The hosts won 1-0, despite being outshot 24-3, Keller reported. Keller played “everywhere” in his first two seasons as a collegian before settling in as an outside midfielder in his junior and senior seasons. … Ash, on his backup, junior keeper Konrad Olech: “He’s jokey, but he’s serious when he plays. When he shouts “Keeper!” that ball is his every time. He’ll be solid next year.”