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Season recap: St. Charles East

By Jared Birchfield, 06/13/24, 1:45PM CDT


The highlight of the St. Charles East end-of-the-season banquet June 5 was the awards presentation.

The coaching staff recognized players for their contributions to the Fighting Saints’ 16-5-6 season that ended with a 1-0 sectional semifinal loss to eventual Class 3A state runnerup St. Charles North. 

St. Charles East finished ranked 26th in the Chicagoland Soccer Final 50 poll, for which all 408 varsity programs that played in the spring were eligible.

Senior centerback Mackenzie Loomis was named the squad’s Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year. As the linchpin of the backline, the Eastern Michigan commit played a major role in the Fighting Saints’ tenacious defense that kept opponents scoreless 17 times -- five more times than the previous season. The 17 goals surrendered were two fewer than the 2023 campaign. 

Loomis also recorded eight goals.

“Mackenzie is such a big part of our team both defending and attacking,” St. Charles East coach Vince DiNuzzo said. “Her physical presence in the back was stellar.”

Freshman Avery Foulkes was named the team’s Unsung Hero.

“Avery is super coachable, a great physical kid,” the Fighting Saints coach said. “She’s naturally a centerback but we played her at wing back. She had the third most goals on the team (nine). She could shoot the ball. I think she found something in her game that she probably didn’t know really existed, because she’s been playing so deep.”

For the Fighting Saints, defense was job one.

“We just didn’t have a ton of pace up-top so we knew goals were going to be a bit harder to come by. Instead of stressing about something that is tough to change in three months, we focused on defending and limiting opponents’ chances,” DiNuzzo explained. “The 17 shutouts speak for themselves; teams didn’t score on us easily. When we had our starting 11 out there, we were
tough to breakdown.”

DiNuzzo implemented a new defensive formation at the start of the season.

“We played a new system this year, which was a first for most of these kids. We played with three (defenders) in the attack, but when we were defending it was really five coming on that backline,” DiNuzzo said.

Freshman Pressley Kannaka joined Loomis and senior Abbey Petrick, who was named the team’s Sportsmanship Award winner, on the backline.

“(Pressley) reminds me a lot of Mackenzie, just athletically strong, puts in a good tackle and is focused on balls out of the air.” said DiNuzzo.

Foulkes and freshman wingback Lilli Margewich switched to defense when opponents went on the attack.

The team was reassured with goalkeeper Sidney Lazenby as the final line of defense.

“With Sidney being between the pipes, we had a level of comfort there with Mackenzie and her athleticism in front,” the St. Charles manager said.

After 51 saves on the season, the junior was named to the DuKane Conference All-Conference Team and received the Golden Glove Award as the top keeper in league competition.

“It’s amazing coming from my freshman year when I didn’t get any awards. Sophomore year, I got all conference honorable mention,” Lazenby said. “It’s a big jump this year where I got all conference and Golden Glove. I feel incredible about it.”

Midfielder Alli Saviano earned the team’s Offensive Player of the Year honor. The Southeast Missouri signee scored 15 times and assisted on 15 goals.

“Saviano is a super competitor. She just has a passion for the game. Her ability to create and manufacture space for herself with her movement and her ability on the ball is what separates her,” said DiNuzzo. “She’s also a leader for us. She’s been on the team since her freshman year.”

Saviano and Loomis joined Lazenby on the all-conference team.

Freshman Sophia Wollenberg, honored as the team’s Newcomer of the Year, led St. Charles East in scoring with 16 goals. Her 17 assists, also a team high, established a new single-season record for the program, which started competition in the 1981-82 school year.

“Another hard-working, coachable kid who did anything we asked her to do. She has the ability to create for others and finish in the final third,” her manager said. “She only gained more confidence throughout the season, and she started really believing in herself.

“Her ability to take players on and score goals is something that’s kind of underrated.”

Saviano and Wollenberg embodied the St. Charles East offense.

“I would say a big part of my scoring was the way that Alli and I combined,” Wollenberg said. “I think a lot of my assists were to her and a lot of her assists were to me. I think that we had a good combination up-top.”

Sophomore midfielder Payton Rivard earned the most improved accolade.

“We struggled to take her off the field, because she applied such a defensive physical presence there, just willing to get you into a challenge,” commented DiNuzzo.

The season featured a 12-game unbeaten streak (10-0-2, March 21-April 19) that included a win over Final 50 no. 3 Plainfield North.

“Some ups and downs. I think that the girls improved throughout the season, and we established our identity as a team that tried to defend first and capitalize on dead balls. A couple of good results, and a couple results that could have gone either way,” said DiNuzzo. “A fun group to have because they were all great kids who were super focused on continuing the Saints’

Despite giving up only two goals in league play and a 3-1-3 circuit record, St. Charles East finished fourth in the DuKane Conference, which is one of the best in Illinois according to the Fighting Saints coach. In addition to St. Charles East, four other DKC teams ranked in the Final 50 poll.

“It’s my belief that it is the most competitive girls conference in the state, just top to bottom. There are five teams that on any given day could win,” DiNuzzo commented. “The team that went to the state finals (second ranked St. Charles North) didn’t even win the conference. That says a lot about what we have in our conference.”

The St. Charles East manager had hoped for a higher place in the conference.

“Obviously we didn’t finish where we wanted to,” said DiNuzzo.
“There were a couple of matches that were unlucky circumstances. The Geneva game got called 25 minutes early. We were playing really well in that game and finished 0-0.”

Geneva was ranked 29th in the Final 50.

The Fighting Saints also tied conference champion Wheaton North (no. 22) and Wheaton Warrenville South (no. 32). The lone league loss came against St. Charles North.

“Wheaton South did a great job defending. Wheaton North is another top-quality team with young talent and then obviously, St. Charles North did what they did this season.”

St. Charles East took third in the Rose Augsburg-Drach Invitational, made it to the Naperville Invitational semifinal round and won all three games in the Fralish Cup Showcase in Carbondale.

Lazenby and Wollenberg agreed that the highlight of the season was the team’s 4-3 championship win in its regional over South Elgin, which extended the Fighting Saints regional title streak to 10. The title match featured three ties, three lead-changes and the game-winner scored with 90 seconds left on the clock.

“We kept going back and forth with South Elgin. Anika Dodrill, our forward, ended up scoring the last-minute goal,” Lazenby said. “It was insane. Loomis ended up scoring three in that game. It was just a really crazy game, and we just all couldn’t believe it.”

“Scoring goals to come back. It was a really fun feeling,” added Wollenberg.

In addition to Loomis, Saviano and Petrick, Ellie Possin and Ava Perugini played their last season for the Fighting Saints.

Besides a varsity letter, Possin left high school soccer with another accolade. She earned the team’s Wirth Gustafson Award for having the highest grade-point average.