Balanced Batavia faces young
Streamwood in league opener
By Ken Keenan
Keeping the field tilted in its favor behind strong midfield play and a quick-strike attack, Batavia scored 10 goals while
surrendering none en route to a solid 3-0-2 start this season --
including a championship performance in Lake Park's Chris Frizzelle Memorial Tournament last week.
The Bulldogs maintained their unbeaten status after a 3-3 tie at Metea Valley on Monday. They hope to get back on the winning track in their Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division opener against Streamwood at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Batavia head coach Mark Gianfrancesco said things started to come together when he added sophomore Keegan Maris to the midfield mix alongside the established duo of seniors
Olivia Callipari and Alexis Bryl at Lake Park.
"They got stronger as the tourney went on," said Gianfrancesco, whose club beat Cary-Grove 2-0 and the host Lancers 4-0 before earning the Frizzelle crown via tiebreaker with 0-0 draw against once-beaten Buffalo Grove.
"Communication was key to their success, and they're hard workers ... always have the motor running. The third thing, they're winning 50/50 balls, challenging people and winning the ball in the air. That puts teams on their heels in their own end and puts us on the attack.
"Doing that work to win 50/50 balls allows our outside backs to get up in the attack, retain possession and keep pressure on the other team's end. We can create from the sides and get services into the box. We play three up top -- in hockey terms, we forecheck -- so we're not not just launching balls in but getting behind (opponents) on the attack.
"Then you have defensive players able to put the ball up and maintain that pressure. In the tourney, some teams couldn't win the ball against us, and they couldn't transition out of their defensive end.
"We've been quick to counter the counterattack -- or the other team's attempt to get out of their own end. The connection between the midfield and the backline has been pretty good so far."
Keeping things locked down on Batavia's side of the field starts with sophomore goalkeeper Jenny Scara, and moves up to the backline of seniors Kayla Stolfa and Lexi Slome, with senior co-captain Ali Grimm and junior Rachel Reinecke manning the middle.
"For Jenny, the biggest thing is communication," Gianfrancesco said. "She's very vocal, and if you're using your mouth and your feet, there's not too many times you have to use your hands -- and she's been doing those things well.
"Kayla and Lexi, those two are winning balls and playing physical. Ali and Rachel are doing a good job of winning the ball back quickly and distributing it well."
Junior forward Megan McEachern (three goals) and senior co-captain Karina Rosales (two goals) have added the finishing touch up front.
"Both of them have an attacking mentality," Gianfrancesco said.
"Karina is physical in the box and looks to score, while Megan has
speed with one-on-one ability. So we have the physical aspect with Karina and the speed with Megan to create opportunities."
Aside from keeping its undefeated start intact, Batavia is eyeing a
win over Streamwood as the initial step toward nabbing an Upstate Eight Conference River Division title in 2015.
"We want to set a tone that we want to win that first conference
match, and play at a high level," Gianfrancesco said. "Winning
conference is a team goal, so that makes it an important game. The intensity and focus should be even more amped up because of who it is."
On the Streamwood side, head coach Matt Polovin is preaching patience, as his young squad -- which features only three seniors -- stood at 1-3-0 heading into back-to-back home matches against South Elgin (Monday) and Batavia.
"We have a mix of high-level and not so high-level players, so
patience is definitely what it is," Polovin said. "We're looking for a nice, steady progress -- and the girls work hard and listen very well.
"Our style is possession-driven, movement without the ball and working with each other. If we have girls knocking the ball all over the field and chasing it, that's not going to work.
"When you're trying to build a young team, you know we're going to take some hits. So you want them to learn something new and bring it into the games.
"It's a learning process every game, and we're getting there."
Leading the Sabres' charge is senior forward Tawny Carroll, who will continue her playing career via a scholarship from Drake University, an NCAA Division I program.
Carroll has paced Streamwood in scoring with two goals and four assists.
"With Tawny, it's a combination of speed and power, and wanting to be better than anyone else on the field," Polovin said. "No matter who we're playing, she's double-teamed, but she still sends perfect passes to the box, and good crosses. She's just an energizer bunny that never stops."
Sophomore forwards Shonali Pierce-Vazquez and Alondra Blanco, and junior forward Karina Nevarez complement Carroll on the attack. Pierce-Vazquez registered two goals and an assist in her team's first four matches.
"Shonali and Karina are the same type of player -- lots of pace behind them on the wings, using their speed up and down the field, and on diagonal runs," Polovin said. "They also recover well on defense when the other team is on the attack.
"Alondra is primarily our attacking center-mid on top. She's only a sophomore, but she plays very composed with the ball and will look up and try to find someone. If not, she'll attack -- and she knows when to send the ball off. She also works well with Tawny. They always seem to find each other on the field."
Goalkeeping duties have been split between sophomore Yasmine Resendiz and fourth-year varsity senior Nathalie Guindon. Resendiz is a member of the Fox Valley Strikers club team (also coached by Polovin), along with Carroll and Pierce-Vazquez, among others.
"Playing year-round makes a huge difference," Polovin said. "Yasmine is great with her hands, plus she has great footwork. She can definitely move -- very quick and aggressive. She knows when to come out, and she comes out hard to slide-tackle the ball.
"Nathalie, who doesn't play club, has worked hard this past year to get better in the goal. She brings a lot of athleticism, and she
understands things. She gets better as the season progresses."
Alex Bonilla and Esmeralda Navarro, a pair of freshmen, have emerged as starters on defense. Freshman Kaila Ford has done the same at midfield.
"Alex is more of an outside defender, and Esmeralda is the 'last man standing' back there," Polovin said. "Kaila is strong-bodied, with aggressiveness and smarts. She has a strong upside -- she doesn't play like a freshman."
Polovin expects a tough test from Batavia on Tuesday.
"They have a nice team -- a lot of seniors, a lot of good players," he said. "It is a conference game -- you want to play your best. You never know what can happen, so you put in your best effort."