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Preview story: Joe Welk Invitational kicks off at Prospect

By Bobby Narang, 04/19/24, 1:00PM CDT


Lake Zurich’s Michael Castronova has a history with Prospect and its Joe Welk Invitational.

He brings his team to the tournament to keep the positive vibes flowing from his experience as a coach and player in the popular two-day tournament.

The Lake Zurich coach has deep ties to the Prospect program.

“I went to Prospect,” Castronova said. “My high school coach, Tom Froats, was the girls coach there until he retired after last season.  We’ve been in the tournament since 2014 and won it in 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019.”

Castronova is looking to end his program’s tournament-title drought this weekend.

The six-team invitational kicks off with today’s 4:30 p.m. game between Prospect (2-6-2) and Grayslake North (1-7-2).
Lake Zurich (7-1-2) takes on Huntley (7-2-2) at 6 p.m., followed by McHenry (2-8-0) battling University (Chicago/5-2-1) at 7:30 p.m.

Prospect won the title the past two seasons. The Knights beat the Bears 3-0 in last season’s title match. In 2022, the Knights knocked off Palatine 5-0. 

Lake Zurich enters the event ranked 18th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.

Castronova’s team figures to be the favorite at this year’s edition. The Bears are led by sophomore midfielder Sydney Arendarczyk (eight goals and seven assists), senior forward Lauren Bailey (eight goals and four assists), freshman forward Reilly Novak (seven goals and five assists) and junior forward Ellie Wise (six goals). Bailey earned Chicagoland Soccer All-State status last spring after a 32-goal, 19-assist season.

“We have a great mix of experienced varsity players, and some underclassman that have stepped up this season,” Castronova said. “We have played well defensively as a team and have been able to create many scoring opportunities. 

“We’ll have three games in a short amount of time, so we need our whole team to be ready.  We’ll need to continue to play tough defensively and finish our chances offensively.”

Grayslake North coach Adam DeCaluwe said his team is hoping for a fresh start this weekend.

“We’re struggling this season as a result of player availability,” he said. “We really have not played a game yet this year where we have had all players fit and available. 

“This has certainly led to some difficulties competing with the tough schedule that we try to play. However, our girls continue to stay positive and put in the best efforts they can every day. We need to keep working, try to stay disciplined defensively and take our chances when we create them.”

Prospect coach Michael Andrews said the six-team invite has a competitive field.

“Every team in the tournament is talented and hard-working,” Andrews said. “I suspect there will be highly competitive games, perhaps a lot of PK shootouts.”

Andrews said his team could use a jolt before the start of the playoffs, which start the second weekend in May. He’s hoping playing three games at home sparks his players.

“I have a wonderful, dedicated, hard-working group of girls on my team,” he said. “This season we have faced some truly top-notch competition, and every game has been a learning experience for us. We struggled early on in the season to find our rhythm and create threatening goal-scoring opportunities. 

"However, we are improving with each passing day, and all the pieces are starting to lock into place. My expectation is that we come out to every game with intensity and composure, and that we outwork every opponent. If we do that, I know more wins will come, and we will go into postseason play with confidence.”

Andrews noted the importance of his team leaders with a compressed schedule.

“Our captains, Julia Valentini and Abby Davis, have been tremendous leaders on and off the field,” Andrews said. “They came into this season with plenty of varsity experience, a desire to win and exceptional soccer talent. Abby is a playmaker, a box-to-box midfielder who pours everything she has into the game. She also pressures hard and gets involved in the attack. 

“Julia is versatile. If we need her at striker, she can create chances and finish. If we need defensive stability, she can solidify the backline. She has played every single position this season (except keeper). 

Prospect is starting to see contributions from across its lineup.

“Maddy Mann has really started to become an attacking presence as well,” Andrews said. “She can take opponents on, she can cross with precision, and she can finish.”

Andrews provided a little bit of history regarding the tournament. Froats started the event and named it the Knights Invite. In 2022, Froats changed the name to honor Joe Welk, who passed away in 2017.

“Joe's four children were Prospect soccer players,” Andrews said. “He was a dedicated coach and father, who did so much for the local community as well as the PHS soccer program.”

Welk’s wife, daughter and grandchild are expected to attend Prospect’s game Friday.