Plainfields, South and North,
meet in "seriously pivotal contest"
Tuesday clash critical to Southwest Prairie standings
By Steve Nemeth
Perhaps you’ve heard this before, any team's hopes for a Southwest Prairie Conference league title is dependant on knocking off Plainfield North.
Ever since the Tigers lost their 2008 season finale, that’s been the refrain.
Well this time, at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Plainfield South's visit to Plainfield North will be key to deciding the SPC crown. And in this case, SPC also stands for seriously pivotal contest.
Last week the previously unthinkable happened, Plainfield North lost a league match.
Minooka gutted out a 1-0 triumph to end a run of 60-straight Tigers conference victories. As a result, league turmoil can be witnessed in the honorable mention section of this week's Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, where Plainfield South is listed ahead of Minooka and Plainfield North.
Click here to see the Chciagoland Soccer Top 25
The Tigers’ hopes for a ninth-consecutive SPC championship, or even a share, hinge on the outcome of the first of their last three conference matches.
Minooka stands atop the Southwest Prairie Conference ladder at 6-0-0 after the triumph that put Plainfield North at 5-1-0. However, the last three SPC outings for the Indians include hosting Plainfield South and Oswego East, both of which are also 5-1.
With no disrespect intended to Plainfield East or Joliet West -– neither of which is having a banner year -– Plainfield North’s biggest concern is getting past a Plainfield South squad that is having a banner year.
The odds would favor the Tigers winning-out more so than Minooka, so the potential is real for Plainfield North to gain, at a minimum, a share of first place.
However “Hold that Tiger, hold that Tiger” is the chorus Plainfield South is singing.
Coach Alfonso Lopez’s team had May 2 marked as a red-letter date long before Minooka’s surprise. The goal of knocking off Plainfield North is another item on a checklist of accomplishments that Plainfield South has been crossing off as part of a historical campaign.
Having already matched the school record for victories in a single-season with the current 15-5-0 ledger, the Cougars can’t fathom not pushing past that number. And previously, no girls soccer unit in Plainfield South history owned a tournament trophy. The 2017 contingent’s hardware includes the Rosary Invitational and a runner-up finish in the PepsiCo Showdown’s “I Grow Chicago” bracket.
“North has always been undefeated in our experience, so it was a surprise to see them lose, but it also simply proved they’re not invincible,” Plainfield South tri-captain Shelby Bishop said. “We’re simply convinced this year we’re more capable and determined to win.”
At the same time, Plainfield North coach Jane Crowe doesn’t believe her team is over the bitter taste of defet. The need to rest and heal some key players left the Tigers undermanned for a visit to Batavia that ended in a 3-0 loss. Then came the rarity of back-to-back defeats when Minooka prevailed.
“Coming off the Batavia loss, we always had it in our mind that even when we weren’t at our best, we’d somehow pull it out, just because it had been so long since we lost in conference,” Crowe stated. “Minooka got a first half goal and then defended by clearing ball after ball. They have a small grass field. And even though almost the whole second half was spent in front of their goal, we just couldn’t find an opening. In no way am I being critical, they did what was needed to win.
“I’ve also known our conference is getting better and better. We went a couple years without giving up a goal in conference matches, but those days of 6-0 or 4-0 wins are gone. When we came from behind early this season to beat Oswego East (5-3 in overtime April 18), it still reinforced the we’ll-pull-it-out thinking,” Crowe admitted. “But this group knows we can’t automatically win just by showing up.”
An attitude that Crowe insists wasn’t lessened by a follow-up 7-0 thumping of conference newcomer Joliet Central. That may have stopped the bleeding, but even the Tigers norm of double-digit victories at 10-5-0 hasn’t salved the recent wounds.
“We know (Plainfield South) wants to beat us just as much. We’ve had a target on our backs for years,” senior co-captain Megan Breier acknowledged. “The key for us is having the heart and effort needed to get the results we want. Plainfield South is our only priority, but then it’ll be East, which got to overtime against Minooka, so we don’t assume anything and focus on one win at a time.”
Fellow co-captain Brittaney Kroll added: “It’s a big game like any of our conference matches are because we want to keep the streak of titles going.”
Speaking of erasing the memory of a loss, Plainfield South had its share of disappointment in two of its last three performances. In a PepsiCo bracket finale, the Cougars aimed to negate a season-opening 2-1 loss to current no. 18 West Aurora, but came up short in a shootout. A 2-0 whitewash of Plainfield East – boosting this group’s new season record for shutouts at 12 – was fine, but seeing a 2-1 tangle turn into a 6-1 defeat in a visit to no. 15 ranked Downers Grove North was a very frustrating post-prom experience.
Making matters more painful for both sides, is the sidelining of goalies. Nicole Trenholm and Jamie Maloney compiled all those clean sheets for the Cougars. But the junior Trenholm is out and her return is on hold, a situation colleges interested in her services have a keen interest in. So Maloney, who will play in college at Millikin, will get the call. For Plainfield North, Erin Kuyawa and Megan Donnally alternated time. Donnally, who will continue her career at Northern Illinois, is on the shelf. Kuyawa will get the call and further prepare for her future play at Grand Valley State.
Beyond conference foes, common opponents don’t exist making statistical comparisons debatable. Yes, the Cougars have that school record of 12 shutouts while North’s goalies have only two clean sheets. But both teams have yielded 20 goals. The Tigers’ offense has produced 33 goals (2.2 per game average) which reflects the nature of some tougher opposition in contrast to Plainfield South’s 47 goals (2.35 average).
“Not that it isn’t a concern for us, it’s more like we lost one-of-two keepers,” Crowe noted. “This time of the year anyone who can play, will play despite bumps and bruises.”
Those are lessons Plainfield South’s veteran corps have shared with teammates. Leading by example especially on the scoreboard, senior Miranda Nirchi and junior Gianna Dodaro spearhead the Cougars attack with 14 goals and nine goals, respectively, with both having also tallied three assists. Junior Taylor Metcalf has added seven goals. Senior Lindsey Bond shares the top assist slot with Bishop at four apiece. Nirchi and Bond will continue as teammates at Joliet Junior College while Dodaro and Bishop will play for Illinois State and St. Xavier respectively.
Nirchi is an offensive force while Bond contributes in virtually any third of the field. The backline has a four-year stalwart in Madison Ourada, who earned IHSSCA All-Section 10 acclaim in 2016.
“Perhaps some people don’t realize how good of a team we are, that doesn’t make a difference to us,” Ourada insisted. “We’ve put in a lot of work, have talent and have really bonded. We really play for each other. Setting records and making our mark definitely brings us a lot of joy.”
Taking down their directional rival would also give the Cougars something that has eluded them thus far in 2017 – a win over a ranked foe. South is 0-4-0 against poll sitters West Aurora (twice), most recently Downers Grove North, and to former no. 1 and new no. 2 Naperville North.
Plainfield North has Naperville North as a regular-season finale, but that will to take a back seat to the Plainfield South game. The Cougars are their fourth-ranked opponent. Plainfield North beat current no. 14 Lane to start the year, but has lost to Naperville Central, Crystal Lake South (now 17), Batavia (12) and special mention member Minooka.
“South didn’t lose a lot to graduation (from 2016’s 8-9-2 group), so they had a lot of chemistry coming into this year,” Crowe said. “You see it very much in the way they play, very confident but not overconfident. We need to match their confidence. That’s strengthened by the year they’re having, the excitement of a Pepsi final and a lot of victories.”
The Tigers counter offensively with the one-two punch of Breier and sophomore Molly Grant. Breier, who is headed to Ohio Northern, owns 13 goals and 11 assists while Grant is next on the team with 10 goals and six assists.
“People naturally notice those two but two huge keys, without whom we don’t create much, are Brittaney (Kroll) and Victoria (Thornton),” Crowe said.
Kroll, a senior co-captain signed by Minnesota State-Mankato, works her magic in midfield as does Thornton, a junior that has emerged as a third threat (four goals and four assists). Plainfield North’s roster also includes Illinois-Chicago signee Jessica Christmas, a senior midfielder, and Kylee Colwell, a junior defender.
Plainfield South head man Lopez is well aware of the Tigers weapons.
“Thornton is great with the ball at her feet and fits in well with the dangerous players they have up-top,” South’s Lopez maintains. “North plays fast. We definitely need to slow them down. Our last two games we were not particularly sharp on defense. A strong team effort defensively has to be our no. 1 priority. A second major key is keeping possession so that we can attack.
“No doubt they are a very solid team, but no matter the past or team records, our seniors especially have been waiting for this opportunity,” Lopez added.
And that's completely understandable, considering the “SPC” factor.