DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove North’s girls soccer team has a new coach, and Downers Grove South has a lot of new players.
Both teams seem to have made quick adjustments to those realities. That much was evident April 1 when the host Trojans dominated the annual crosstown game, but settled for a 0-0 tie at Carstens Field.
Downers South (0-2-2) has yet to score a goal but has given up only two thanks to a determined defense and the outstanding goalkeeping of senior Paige Patera, who stymied the Trojans by making 10 saves.
“It’s a lot different this year because we have a whole new lineup, but a lot of the girls returning from last year have gotten experience during practice and see how everyone can mesh together,” Patera said. “I think every single game we’re getting better and better with our chemistry and bonding as a group because they’re all such great girls.”
The Mustangs’ back line was under siege for most of the game but did well to make things difficult for North’s attackers despite getting outshot 19-2.
“My defense, we all have known each other for long periods of time – before even high school – so I think there’s a lot of trust that we have in each other,” said Patera, whose best save came when she dove to tip a shot from Carissa Mysliwiec around the post as time expired in the first half. “I think that keeps growing and growing.”
So, too, does North’s confidence under new coach Brian Papa, an Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame member who has racked up more than 800 wins coaching boys and girls soccer.
The Trojans (3-0-1) have allowed only one goal and have a dominant midfield led by Abby Swanson, Carli Nehls, Simone Gardner and Julia Kramper.
“He’s an awesome coach,” Swanson said. “He’s making sure we’re strong and solid in the back and center mid and going up from there.
“It’s a very different approach from last year. We spend a lot more time in the classroom setting, really drawing it out and looking at each play individually. I think that’s helpful. We’re undefeated so far, so we’re doing something right.”
The Trojans also have a solid defense, which was rarely challenged by the Mustangs. North goalkeeper Grace Stevenson had to make only two saves, both routine, to record her third shutout.
But the key to North’s success this season will be the strong midfield. Swanson, who was denied three times by Patera, has a cannon of a leg and can shoot from everywhere. Mysliwiec and Gardner are dangerous shooters as well.
“Our midfield is as good as anybody’s,” Papa said. “Give the girls from South credit. They played hard and they made our shots difficult.”
Downers South coach Chris Hernandez also is building his team from back to front.
“We’re young and we’re going to defend first,” Hernandez said. “We had three sophomores as our forwards [against North] so it’s a steep learning curve, but the girls are starting to get it.”