GENEVA – Geneva seniors Annie Waldoch, Molly Stanfa, Courtney Lardas and Tory Herbst didn’t forget how to play soccer after forgoing the club season leading up to their senior seasons.
Still, the girls didn’t take the decision lightly, not after longstanding commitments to club soccer since early in their elementary school days.
They sought out creative ways to stay involved with soccer leading up to this spring, and continue to serve as key pillars for Geneva, which opens postseason play today in an IHSA Class 3A Geneva Regional semifinal against Elk Grove.
“It’s something we’ve been doing our whole lives,” Waldoch said of club soccer. “One season, and not even a season off, but a season off club after playing club for 10 years, I don’t think it makes that much of a difference because we know how to push ourselves, and we also had that extra push from the side, too.”
The girls stuck together and took an open-minded approach to their offseasons, even following up on a lead from Herbst’s mother, Michelle, and joining a women’s league in the Naperville area in which most of the competitors were well into their 20s or older.
“It was a different feel,” Herbst said. “There weren’t practices and we didn’t really know any of the women but it was good to go out there. It was just kind of a slower pace. It was different but it was a good experience.”
The players also enlisted training support from former Geneva standout Jackie Santacaterina, who went on to play professionally with the Chicago Red Stars. A player of Santacaterina’s caliber had the girls’ full attention.
“Not having a club coach pushing us, we had somebody else pushing us to stay in shape and keep our touches up and stay focused in the offseason,” Stanfa said.
Lardas, Waldoch, Stanfa and Herbst even parlayed their extensive soccer connections to linking up with a team based out of Alaska for an out-of-state tournament.
Playing club soccer year in, year out is the norm for most of the area’s top players but Waldoch said it felt like time for a less structured approach.
“Molly is playing college (at Loras) but Tory and I aren’t, and club is always very expensive, and we’ve been playing it since we were 8 years old,” Waldoch said. “We knew whatever we would do besides club, we wanted to do it together and keep playing together.”
Herbst, Stanfa and Waldoch are strong defensive presences and four-year varsity players for a seasoned Vikings team with five four-year stalwarts, Michaela Loebel and Hope Goodman being the others. Maggie Bodine and Lardas are three-year varsity players and Geneva has 11 seniors overall.
It’s a level of experience – and talent – that allowed the Vikings (13-5-2) to earn the No. 3 seed in the 18-team Conant Sectional.
Geneva coach Megan Owens said she’ll have “craters,” not holes, to fill next year.
“It’s really going to be hard to say goodbye to this group,” Owens said.
But the Vikings hope to delay that parting for quite a while.
Herbst and Co. feel prepared to do their part, standing by the offseason work they put in to gear up for their senior years.
“I think this is going to be the year to do it,” Herbst said. “We’re excited. I think the people who have been on here three, four years, this is the time we feel we’re the core of the team, and we can really step up and show ourselves.”
Girls Soccer Regional Breakdown
Best first-round matchup
Batavia vs. Fremd at Class 3A Addison Trail Regional, 6:30 p.m. today. The Bulldogs took their lumps against the upper-half of the rugged Upstate State Eight Conference River Division, but if they grew from playing that caliber of competition, then the eighth-seeded Bulldogs could be equipped to move on in what should be a hotly contested regional semifinal against the ninth-seeded Vikings.
Best potential regional final
Kaneland vs. Rosary at Class 2A Rosary Regional. Neither the top-seeded Knights or the second-seeded Royals will face daunting opposition in their regional semifinals, meaning it’s likely the teams will meet in a regional final for the fourth time in five years Saturday. While Rosary would be playing on its home field, the Knights had a much stronger regular season and could be primed to bag their first regional title in program history.
Best area bet to win a regional
St. Charles North at Class 3A Addison Trail Regional. The top-seeded North Stars are always a tough out this time of year, and considering North’s dominance against Batavia earlier this season – North beat Batavia, 4-0, in St. Charles, and Batavia is the next best seed at the regional – it would be a stunner if North’s annual march to sectionals were derailed this week.
Potential dark horse
St. Francis at Class 2A De La Salle Regional. Maybe it wouldn’t be much of an upset if the fifth-seeded Spartans advance out of the regional where rival and No. 4 seed Wheaton Academy is the favorite on paper. But while it’s true St. Francis beat Wheaton Academy in a penalty kick shootout during the regular season, the Warriors outplayed the Spartans for large stretches of the match, and St. Francis likely will have to raise its game to score another win in a potential regional final Friday.