Amanda Hilton experienced a funny sensation as the start of the girls soccer season approached – feeling rested.
That's not a feeling to which the St. Charles East senior is accustomed, especially this time of year.
A four year-stalwart in East's girls basketball and soccer programs, Hilton wishes she wasn't quite so rested this spring, but nonetheless intends to transfer her pent-up energy into an especially productive senior soccer season for the Saints.
Hilton's final basketball season ended prematurely with a hairline kneecap fracture during a Christmas tournament game, but the Nebraska soccer recruit was cleared to return in time for the start of soccer season this week.
"I feel more energized than I ever have because I had that little time off, and I don't get time off much, so I'm very excited to be back," Hilton said. "I feel so good and I feel better than ever, so I'm excited."
A high-scoring guard in basketball, Hilton injured her right knee coming down for a rebound, though initially it wasn't thought to be the type of injury that would be season-ending.
"That did not even cross my mind," Hilton said. "The doctor [originally] thought it would either be a deep bone bruise or something with cartilage, and I'd only have to sit a game or two to get stronger again, but when I went in there and they said a broken knee – those were the exact words – I didn't even know there was such a thing. It blew my mind. I was shocked, and they told me I was out for the rest of the season, which was hard to hear."
Hilton said it was emotional to watch her senior basketball season end from the bench but expressed pride that her teammates were able to finish the season on respectable footing without her.
But Hilton plans to be right in the middle of East's soccer success this spring. The speedy, attacking midfielder covers vast ground and has several experienced returnees with which to partner in stirring the Saints' attack.
The defense behind returning goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan is more of a question for the Saints, especially considering sisters Sam and Nicole Lombardo moved to California earlier this school year, according to Saints coach Paul Jennison.
While last year's graduations and the Lombardos' move opens holes in the lineup, East received an influx of talent in four players who exclusively played club soccer last season.
Juniors Mallory Mollenhauer, Kelli Santo Paulo and Sophie Jendrzeczyk, plus senior Rion Gaffney, should nicely complement East's returning group, Jennison said.
"You never want to lose players of quality at any time, especially players of the quality we have lost," Jennison said. "That's obviously detrimental, but if these girls can come in and play productive roles, that's going to be a benefit for the rest of the girls, and hopefully coming in as juniors, they'll have a little more leadership."
Sophomores Shannon Gatehouse, Julia Peterson and Sonia Ost are among the candidates to lead a youthful reincarnation of East's defense.
Jennison, though, said figuring out a lineup with so many new pieces and pressing needs in the back likely will take longer this season than most.
"It'll be a case of adapting to what the needs of the team will be," Jennison said.
In the meantime, Hilton – with energy to burn – figures to be a stabilizing force.
"She's rested, she looks fit, so we're obviously expecting a big year from her," Jennison said. "She's hopefully going to put herself in great position to move forward and get ready for her time at Nebraska."
TEAMS TO WATCH
On the heels of a 13-5-3 season, Bulldogs coach Mark Gianfrancesco said it's time to "take the next step and show we can be successful against quality opponents." Junior midfielder Alexis Bryl, junior defender Ali Grimm and sophomore forward Megan McEachern are among the primary building blocks.
Geneva notched 12 shutouts as a team last season and many more should be coming down the pike behind the area's most seasoned pack of defenders. Scoring threats such as Michaela Loebel and Mary Landry should ensure the Vikings score enough to contend in the UEC River.
St. Charles East
East veterans such as Amanda Hilton, Shannon Rasmussen, Anna Corirosi and Darcy Cunningham bring plenty of chemistry and playmaking skill to the field, and the Saints have an established goalkeeper in Kendra Sheehan. A new-look defense probably holds the key to the Saints' level of success.
St. Charles North
North winning big is close to a given under veteran coach Ruth Vostal, and returning talents such as midfielders Alyssa Brandt, Lizzie Parrilli and Hanna Durocher, forward Sophie Pohl and defenders Jenny Barr and Megan O'Leary give Vostal a solid base with which to keep the Stars clicking. Sophomore Lauren Neslund is a newcomer to watch.
Coach Dave Underwood's team welcomes back nine starters and 15 returnees, so quality depth is on hand. Senior midfielder Abby Olson (12 goals, five assists last year) and defender Molly Thorson should be strong leaders for a group that bonded via a summer mission trip to Kenya and Uganda.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jenny Barr, St. Charles North, Sr., D
The Miami (Ohio) recruit has been a stalwart performer for North throughout her career and possesses the athleticism to be a big factor transitioning play upfield.
Alyssa Brandt, St. Charles North, Sr., M
A returning captain and proven scorer, Brandt figures to become even more of a central fixture in North's attack this season.
Lauren Frasca, Rosary, Sr., GK
The DePaul recruit brings the full package for the Royals – experience, skill and a booming voice to help direct top defender Maria Witte and the rest of the Royals' defense.
Corky Hart, St. Francis, Jr., D
One of three St. Francis stalwarts who played on the Spartans' 2012 2A state championship team, Hart should supply quality leadership this season along with senior forward Andrea Ravlin and junior midfielder Taylor Van Thournout as the Spartans aim to enjoy the first season on their new, turf field.
Amanda Hilton, St. Charles East, Sr., M
One of the area's top all-around female athletes, the Nebraska recruit brings a clean bill of health into the season, a relief for East after Hilton suffered a season-ending basketball injury.
Quincy Kellett, Rosary, Jr., F
After Kellett bagged 27 goals both as a freshman and a sophomore, new Rosary coach Brian Frank will hope the explosive junior can at least match that lofty total for a third straight spring.
Michaela Loebel, Geneva, Sr., F
Another Nebraska recruit, Loebel returns as a potential top scoring option for the Vikings after an ACL tear prevented the multisport standout from turning on her jets as a junior.
Megan McEachern, Batavia, So., F
McEachern burst onto the scene with a 15-goal freshman season for the Bulldogs and will try to keep the arrow pointing up despite what figures to be more concerted marking from the opposition.
Megan O'Leary, St. Charles North, Sr., D
O'Leary's physical toughness, savvy and ability to make plays in the air off set pieces make her a valuable cog for the perennial power North Stars.
Delaney Stryczek, Kaneland, Sr., D
Stryczek gives the Knights a returning all-conference and all-sectional defender. Her presence will be crucial for a Knights team that must replace graduated goalkeeper Jordan Ginther (now at Purdue). Emily Chapman projects to replace Ginther and has played well in preseason practice, according to coach Scott Parillo.
Molly Thorson, Wheaton Academy, Jr., D
Thorson also brings all-conference/all-sectional pedigree to the field and returns as the clear-cut leader of the Warriors' defense.
Annie Waldoch, Geneva, Sr., D
Waldoch is part of a highly experienced back line for the Vikings. She and fellow senior defenders Tory Herbst, Molly Stanfa and Maggie Bodine were keys in the Vikings' sectional final berth last season.