PLAYERS TO WATCHJenny Barr, St. Charles North, Jr., D Barr, who flourished on the back line despite little experience there during North’s second-place finish in 3A last season, committed to Miami (Ohio) during the offseason.
Taylor Bucaro, St. Francis, Sr., D One of two Bowling Green recruits in St. Francis’ senior class (goalkeeper Jenna DiTusa is the other), Bucaro is a dead-ball specialist and highly skilled defender for the defending Class 2A state champions.
Lauren Frasca, Rosary, Jr., GK A DePaul recruit, the vocal, assertive Frasca allowed only 17 goals during a sparkling sophomore season last year for the Royals.
Jordan Ginther, Kaneland, Sr., GK Ginther, the program’s first Division I recruit (Purdue), is “unbelievable,” coach Scott Parillo says. She will be tested plenty with Geneva and St. Charles East both added to the nonconference slate.
Amanda Hilton, St. Charles East, Jr. M East coach Paul Jennison calls Hilton a “box to box player” capable of stirring the attack as well as providing gritty support defensively. Committed to Nebraska during the offseason.
Kaitlin Johnson, Rosary, Sr., M The versatile Michigan State recruit is a defensive-minded midfielder for Rosary, which is seasoned in the midfield with fellow seniors Taylor Gibson and Haley Kilbride also in the mix.
Amanda Lulek, Geneva, Sr., F Lulek scored 14 goals to go with six assists last season. The four-year varsity starter and Iowa recruit becomes the Vikings’ go-to scorer with Catherine Allon’s graduation.
Kelly Manski, St. Charles North, Sr., M The third Manski sister to aid coach Ruth Vostal’s powerhouse program, Manski added 10 goals and 12 assists to the cause last spring for North.
Meredith Matson, Wheaton Academy, Sr., D The returning all-Suburban Christian Conference selection anchors a defense that will be asked to do a little more with the graduation losses of Crystal Thomas and Ally Witt, who combined for 61 goals last season. Sophomore Molly Thorson should be a strong defensive partner for Matson.
Carly Pottle, St. Charles East, Sr., F Pottle emerged as one of the area’s most clutch scorers as a junior and will look to follow up by reincarnating her strong chemistry with Hilton from basketball on to the soccer field.
Annie Waldoch, Geneva, Jr., D Waldoch, a three-year starter like fellow defenders and classmates Tory Herbst and Molly Stanfa, is a big piece of a Vikings team that is pursuing its third straight Upstate Eight Conference River title.
Natalie Winkates, St. Charles North, Sr., M The Northern Iowa-bound Winkates notched 10 goals and five assists as a junior, when she was an all-conference and all-sectional performer for the North Stars.
FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SEASON
1. Who is the best team in the area? St. Charles North was runners-up to Geneva in the Upstate Eight Conference River last season but showed its elite caliber in the postseason, falling in the 3A state championship match to Naperville North in quadruple overtime. The North Stars graduated top scorer Lauren Koehl but return almost all of their other key contributors, including 2012 Chronicle First Team All-Area picks Kelly Manski, Jenny Barr, Alex Gage and Kenzie Rose. Geneva took a big injury hit in Michaela Loebel (ACL tear during basketball season) but the two-time defending conference champs still have ample experience – especially defensively – and a proven scorer in Amanda Lulek.
2. What about the other Tri-Cities teams? While North and Geneva are the natural favorites, St. Charles East expects to be in the mix, too, with senior defender Allie Arvizu, senior forward Carly Pottle and junior Amanda Hilton anchoring a team that will be boosted by a deep junior class that also includes key pieces such as Anna Corirosi and Shannon Rasmussen. Batavia will be an underdog in the UEC River but has a solid senior core in goalkeeper Nicki Seiton, midfielder Shelby Stone, forwards Anna Zeyen and Grace Andrews and defender Lindsay Spears.
3. Can St. Francis defend its 2A state title? Coach Jim Winslow acknowledges once a team wins a state championship, the bar is set so high that anything less “is kind of disappointing.” The good news is, the Spartans have a realistic chance to go deep yet again, buoyed by returning varsity stalwarts such as goalkeeper Jenna DiTusa, defender Taylor Bucaro and midfielders Kaity Bucaro and Anna Vonderhaar. While defense and goalkeeping look good, the Spartans lost plenty of goal-scoring punch, and will need forwards such as Kaity Bucaro and Andrea Ravlin to deliver.
4. Who are some impact newcomers? Cracking North’s rotation is always difficult but sophomore midfielder Lizzie Parrilli has a chance for the North Stars. Sophomore Mary Landry could give Geneva some scoring depth at forward, while Kaneland expects a pair of freshmen, midfielder Gabby Cano and defender Nicole Koczka, to contribute.
5. What is the strongest position in the area? With Division I recruits such as Ginther (Kaneland), DiTusa (St. Francis) and Lauren Frasca (Rosary) returning, goalkeeper is an area of strength for several area teams. Batavia also brings back a reliable keeper in Seiton.