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Girls soccer previews: Lyons, Nazareth look to defend conference crowns

Morton also looks strong while RB and Fenwick hope for improvement

Gianna Milaro works through a drill during Nazareth practice Friday in La Grange Park.
Gianna Milaro works through a drill during Nazareth practice Friday in La Grange Park.

Jim Bageanis
2011-2012 record: 14-7-3
Top players
Rachel Kacirek sr. M
Briana Keska sr. M
Tania Paez so. F
Nelly Romero sr. D
First game: 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14 vs. Downers Grove North
23 - Morton's positive goal differential in its six West Suburban Gold matches last season.

What to watch: After a strong season, which included a second-place finish in the West Suburban Gold and a regional title, Morton is looking for more success thanks to a core of talented returners.

Senior midfielder Briana Keska keys everything in Morton's attack. She was a regular goal scorer and racked up the assists as an elite set-piece taker.

"She'll probably do it all again for us hopefully," said coach Jim Bageanis. "We're going to be surrounding her with more offensive firepower this year."

Sophomore Tania Paez will be one of those options up top. Senior midfielder Rachel Kacirek also figures to be a key playmaker for the Mustangs.

In the back, senior sweeper Nelly Romero will lead the defense.

That strong core will be supported by a number of younger players and varsity newcomers.

"We've got a few good returning players," Bageanis said. "We're going to be young with at least one freshman starting and maybe three sophomores. We're going to have a mix."

The Mustangs figure to be among the contenders in the West Suburban Gold again. Defending champion Downers Grove South is always tough, and Bageanis mentioned Hinsdale South as an improved team.

"If we can just be on the same page by the time we play those teams that will bode well for us," he said. "I think we can compete for it. I think we're close to being right there."

Bageanis has beefed up the Mustangs' schedule, replacing the Palatine tournament with the Pepsi Showdown. The hope is that the tougher schedule will help them get over the hump from some of their close games last year.

"I just want to be competitive in all our games and try to finish a few of these teams off that we either tied or lost to by one goal last year," Bageanis said.

Riverside Brookfield
Danny Makaric
2011-2012 record: 8-5-3
Top players
Salem Baer sr. M
Hannah Claywell sr. D
Lia Sanchez jr. M
Caroline Waas jr. D/M
First game: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12 at Lake Park
4-2 - The Bulldogs' record in the MSC last season.

What to watch: A pair of starters from the basketball team, Hannah Claywell and Caroline Waas are among a core of Bulldogs with multiple years each of varsity experience.

Claywell will have to anchor the defense following the graduation of all-sectional defender Katy Linhart. Waas and fellow returners Lia Sanchez and Salem Baer could make for a strong midfield.

Yaya Rodriguez is also back after being one of the team's top scorers last season.

The Bulldogs will be more familiar with how second-year coach Danny Makaric runs the program. RB last won a regional in 2010 and lost to MSC-rival Glenbard South 2-0 in a regional final last season. Getting past the Raiders this year could mean a conference title.

Lyons Township
Bill Lanspeary
2011-2012 record: 15-4-4
Top players
Liza Gabrek so. D
Catherine King jr. D
Ari Kowalski sr. M/D
Abbie Pasquinelli sr. F
First game: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14 vs. Waubonsie Valley
0 - Number of goals LT allowed in its six conference games last season.

What to watch: Indiana signee Ari Kowalski is back to lead the Lions this season. Coach Bill Lanspeary plans to move his all-state returner from the back line to a role in central midfield.

“She’s clearly one of our best players," Lanspeary said. "We think she can really control the midfield and add something to the attack.”

Lanspeary thinks there is enough cover in defense to allow for Kowalski to play in the midfield. The Lions don't have any senior defenders, but plenty of players with varsity experience.

Juniors Catherine King and C.C Holbert along with sophomore Liza Gabrek are returners. Junior Sarah Drew and freshman Izzy Scott also expect to get playing time as varsity newcomers.

Up top, Abbie Pasquinelli and Emily Lange figure to key the attack. Lange had a big scoring freshman season, but couldn't match that last year.

In the midfield, Lanspeary is looking for a breakout season from junior Erin Fitzgerald to go with Kowalski.

In net, the Lions will have to replace Maggie Orlowski, an all-state selection last year. Lanspeary has three candidates for the spot but, without outdoor practice time, hasn't been able to narrow it down yet.

LT will take part in the Naperville Invite and the Pepsi Showdown to highlight a difficult schedule. Lanspeary is hoping to make a run in both, but after the Lions won the West Suburban Silver last season and failed to win a regional, the focus will be on the postseason.

“The lesson from last year is we need to be playing our best at the end of the year," Lanspeary said.

John Nikchevich
2011-2012 record: 17-1-2
Top players
Maureen Culligan sr. M
Gianna Milaro sr. M
Nicole Moore sr. D
Haley Renehan sr. F/M
Megan Tobin sr. F/M
First game: 5 p.m. Friday, March 15 vs. Oak Park-River Forest
21 - Goals scored by Gianna Milaro last season to go with 18 assists.

What to watch: After an undefeated regular season and a conference title last season, Nazareth is hoping to make a deeper run in the postseason, but it will come with a lot of new faces.

A strong core of seniors, headed up by Purdue-signee Gianna Milaro, will lead the team. Coach John Nikchevich says the determining factor to the team’s success will be the supporting cast of unproven players.

“It’s going to be a blank canvas,” Nikchevich said. “At this point it’s an unpredictable season. We have some solid players back, but we’re going to have a lot of young kids out there.”

The coach said the Roadrunners’ schedule, which includes typically tough East Suburban Catholic Conference opposition in the form of Benet and St. Viator, is one of the toughest he’s had. Out of conference, Naz will play the likes of Oak Park-River Forest, Morton and Maine South as well as heading to Niles West for a tournament.

“We’re playing against bigger schools and we’ll have to play hard,” Nikchevich said. “We’re going to have to put things together pretty quick.”

Robert Watson
Top players
Lizzie Cusick sr. D
Maddie Stupinski sr. M
Molly Wallach sr. M
3 - All-conference performers on last year's team, all of which were seniors.
First game: 4:30 p.m. Monday vs. Eisenhower

What to watch: The Friars will have to replace defender Audrey Galvin and goalkeeper Sydney Galvez-Daley, who are both playing Division I soccer, from a team that went 5-4 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference and lost to York in a regional final last season.

Lizzie Cusick, Maddie Stupinski and Molly Wallach will be expected to lead the team. All three have multiple years of varsity experience.

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