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Season preview: Fenwick

By Bobby Narang, 03/08/24, 9:00AM CST


Two years ago, Fenwick followed a foursome of senior captains all the way to the Class AA state tournament Final Four.

The Friars fell shy of the ultimate prize with tough defeats to eventual state champion Triad in the semifinals and Deerfield in the third place game.

Due to inexperience last season, the Friars hit a few speed bumps in the first six weeks in their quest for a return trip to the final weekend of the season. But Fenwick picked up steam late and knocked on the door before dropping a 2-0 decision to host DeLaSalle in the supersectional round. The program fell one game short of making its fourth trip to state. In 2024, coach Craig Blazer said his team is gearing toward another run at state behind a solid group of experienced returnees and promising newcomers.

The Friars, who finished with an 8-10-5 overall record and placed sixth in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference at 1-3-2 in 2023, are infused with five freshmen joining the varsity: midfielder/forward Coco Braithwaite, keeper Mimi Camille Carvalho, forward Bella Gray and midfielders Lucy Gruber and Natalie Kapusta.

“Last year was such a challenge in losing the quality seniors we had, but we were able to buy in by the end of season,” Blazer said. “We were really playing well. That’s a testament to the girls and their development. The girls worked hard throughout the year. They really connected in the sense of chemistry and camaraderie, and the overall idea in how we want to act as a group.

“This year, specifically, we have more experience and a good group of seniors with a nice complement of juniors, sophomores and freshmen. We went to the Final Four two seasons ago, just missed last year. But now we are playing in Class 3A. We’ve played a very challenging schedule the last two years, so our mentality is in the right place.”

The Friars certainly do have a nice mix of players with six seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and five freshmen, Senior forward Grace Kapsch, a Chicagoland Soccer all-stater after a 17-goal, six-assist campaign last spring, is a top returnee. 

Kapsch said the seniors hope to lead the way to a return trip to the state finals at North Central College on May 31 and June 1. She feels a strong start is the best way to set the tone for the Friars.

“The first couple games of the season were all about learning and trying new things, because it was almost like we had a new whole team,” Kapsch said of last season. “A majority of the team from the previous year were seniors, so that meant that new people had to step up and play new positions. Figuring out what works is not something that happens in a game or two. For us, it was all about trusting each other’s abilities.”

Kapsch, who scored Fenwick’s lone goal in its two games at state in 2022, said the Friars have a diverse team, which includes her junior twin sisters, Clare and Keira. Unfortunately Claire will be relegated to the sideline as the team manager after a basketball injury sidelined her for the soccer season.

“I think that this team has so much potential because everyone on this team is able to hold their own whenever they step out on the field. This team also has a lot of fight, which will be very important this season because of the toughness of our schedule. I know that if we play how we usually play, this season will be great. I am so excited to play with such an amazing group of girls.

“I definitely feel like everyone adds their own thing, and when you put all of these attributes together, it creates a great product. Each and every single person on this team contributes something. Without it, the team would not be the same. This team is also nothing but supportive, so I’m really excited to see where this season takes us. I know that everyone really wants to build off of our success from last year and have a state run, but that starts with showing up for practices and games, giving 100 percent.”

Senior midfielder Fiona Roche, a Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List midfielder last season finished the season with three goals and two assists. She feels the new players will make the Friars a dangerous team as the season builds.

“I think this team’s potential is very high and promising, but we just have to unlock it,” said Roche, who will co-captain the team with Grace Kapsch. “We gained five freshmen who all add a lot to our team, as well as have a lot of returning veterans. I think once we learn how to play to each other’s strengths and mesh together, we will be successful in how we want to play. I think the freshmen class is extremely athletic, especially fast. They are adjusting to playing (varsity) but doing a great job, and I’m excited to see how they develop. Our sophomores are returning players but still can develop their skills. They contributed a lot last year through their technical skills and how hard they worked. I’m really excited to see how they will impact the game.”

Roche said the seniors have to be leaders on the pitch.

“Most of the juniors play key defensive positions, and they play a crucial role in supporting the team from the backline,” Roche said. “They contribute a lot to the game, and I’m excited to see what they will bring to our season. All our seniors are veterans, who have mostly been on varsity all four years. We are all really excited for the season and want to make it the best it can be. The seniors are spread out across the field, with some playing offense, defense and one playing in goal. I think this really helps the team and builds our confidence in our play. I’m really proud of how much work the seniors have put in already, whether it be open gyms, weights, practices, or just meeting the new freshman and welcoming them into the team. I’m excited to put in more work and see where our season takes us. 

“I think our biggest strength is our unity and skill on the field. I think how close the team is and our culture will give us the confidence to be the best we can be. Our spread-out skill-set all over the field will also help us perform.”

The return of senior Caroline Henige to the Friars certainly had to bring a big smile to Blazer’s face. The midfielder, who committed to Marquette, elected to play club last spring. In the most recent state trophy season, Henige scored 12 goals and delivered three assists.

She returns to the team looking to make her mark in the program and follow in her older sister’s footsteps. Kate Henige, a two-time Chicagoland  Soccer all-stater, led the Friars with 19 goals and seven assists in her senior year in 2022.

“I feel really good about this year’s team,” Henige said. “Getting fourth in state in 2022 definitely has shown a lot of the girls on the team have what it takes to play at the highest level. We have great leaders who understand the demands of what it is going to take to be successful this year. I am very excited to see us grow as a team this upcoming season.

“I definitely see grit and experience as two major strengths of the team. From the freshman up to the seniors we have players who are excited to play and prove themselves on the field. We are all super competitive, so a goal of our team this year is to prove ourselves to the schools in 3A.”

Kapsch said she worked diligently on her game throughout the offseason to add a few more layers that will aid Fenwick’s attack.

“I have been working on my shot and touch during the offseason to make both of them more accurate,” Kapsch said. “It’s important because especially as a forward, you have sometimes such little time to take a touch and have a shot, so working on the quickness and accuracy will help me get more shot attempts off.”

Roche also said she will be a different player on the pitch this season.

“I’ve been working on my individual speed and confidence a lot more since the end of last season,” Roche said. “I also switched club teams, so I began to play with a lot of new girls. This experience really helped me improve my communication and collaboration skills within playing as a team. I want to make the season the best it can be, and through improving these things, I believe I can make more of an impact this season.”

Henige said her game should look different to Fenwick’s opponents compared to the last time they competed against her on a high school pitch.

“Personally, I have been working a lot on taking people on 1-v-1 in the attacking third especially,” Henige said. “Holding onto the ball at the right times and having composure on the ball has always been a big part of my game as a center mid. Over the last year with both my club team and Fenwick, it has been one of my main areas of focus.”

Junior forward Susie Shank is another key returnee. The Watch List, all-conference and all-sectional player contributed seven goals and five assists last season. 

Additionally, the 2024 Friars will draw from the talent and maturity of seniors Lizzie Brunick (midfielder), Leah Hyland (midfielder/goalkeeper) and Gabi Kapusta (defense). Juniors Alex Ballinger (midfielder), Emma Maria Bassett (defender), Finley Dondlinger (midfielder/defender), Keira (midfielder/defender) Kapsch and Keira Mullarkey (midfielder/defender). The older players will be counted on for solid performances. The sophomore unit of Mary Brunick (midfielder), Stephanie Gonzalez (midfielder), Lola Martinez (defender) and Margaret Price (goalkeeper) will make an impact as they continue to adjust to the varsity game.

“The addition of the younger players gives us more depth,” Blazer said. “It’s a good group, but we’re going to see how long it takes us to settle in. Our schedule is packed. We will be at Body Armor and the Naperville Invitational. We will be better prepared for these two events than last year, then we will have all the mini challenges in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference. I’m looking forward to a good start in our opener.”