Coach Clay Smith’s Collinsville High girls soccer team showed what it can do against metro-east competition during the regular season. Now the Kahoks will see how their game stacks up against top teams from Chicagoland.
Collinsville (21-3-1) will face Neuqua Valley (18-3-2) in the semifinals of the Class 3A state tournament at 5 p.m. Friday at North Central College in Naperville. The Kahoks are in the tourney for the first time since 2002; the Wildcats were last there in 2005.
“Obviously, Neuqua is a very storied program,” Smith said. “Joe (Moreau) is a great coach who I have a lot of respect for. They’ve been there before and they have a little experience, and they’ll be in their backyard. They have phenomenal players on their team.”
While the Kahoks will make a 261-mile trip to reach Naperville, the Wildcats will board their bus for a 7-mile ride to the North Central College campus.
But Smith is willing to take his chances with his Southwestern Conference champion Kahoks and their deep and talented roster.
“At the end of the day, like I say to the girls, the only team that’s going to beat the Kahoks is the Kahoks,” Smith said. “With all the talent they have, I think we’re just as talented. So as long as we come out and play soccer like we know how, stick to the game plan and limit their threats on the field, I think we’ll be OK.
“This team has multiple scoring threats. That’s what poses a lot of difficulties for teams. This team has a couple more weapons (than previous teams) and they get it done in the offensive third.”
If Collinsville wins Friday, it will play for the championship at 7 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the other semifinal between Barrington and defending state champion New Trier. A loss Friday would send the Kahoks into the third-place game at 5 p.m. Saturday against the New Trier-Barrington loser.
The Wildcats rely on three seniors, all Division I recruits recruits: midfielder Lauren Ciesla (Illinois), forward Kiley Czerwinski (Illinois State) and defender Sophia Moreau (Bowling Green), the coach’s daughter. Czerwinski leads Neuqua Valley with 13 goals, while Ciesla has nine. Senior goalie Hannah Parrish has a 0.52 goals-against average.
Freshmen Alyssa Bombacino (10 goals) and Jamie Goralski (11 assists) have made valuable contributions to a team that has won 10 in a row.
Collinsville has a dynamic player at about every position. Senior Sophia Sharos (17 goals, 10 assists), sophomore Emily Holten (14 goals, 13 assists) and senior Mikayla McCarthy (14 goals, nine assists) are the leading goal-scorers. Sophomore Andrea Frerker has 11 assists, and junior Kitty Besserman is right behind with 10. Sophomore Morgan Lerch and junior Julie Scheiter divide goaltending duties in front of a smothering defense.
Moreau coached St. Charles to five consecutive state championships from 1996-2000, compiling a 138-5-7 record. No other team has won more than two straight state titles.
Moreau took over at Neuqua Valley in 2006, the year after the Wildcats won the state tournament. In 10 seasons at NeuquaValley, Moreau is 176-41-16, but this is the team’s first appearance at state under his leadership.
Smith is making his first appearance at state. The Kahoks lost in the super-sectional in 2012 and 2013, both times to eventual state champion Naperville North.
Smith, in his fifth season, is 85-25-7. Smith also coaches the boys team at Collinsville and is the school’s assistant athletics director.
Key for Kahoks
Collinsville often is jumpy at the start of a game, requiring time to settle down. A critical mistake in the opening minutes could be problematical against Neuqua Valley.
“Nerves will be an issue,” Smith acknowledged. “It’s the first time we’ve been to state in a while; it’s the first time I’ve been there. The first 10 minutes of the first game are going to be quite a chore to get under control. At the same time, this is a very smart group of girls and I believe they’ll settle down.”
Collinsville has posted 15 shutouts, but its defense will be tested by Czerwinski, Bombacino, Ciesla and others.
“They’re pretty direct from what I’ve seen,” Smith said of the Wildcats’ attack. “They have some fast weapons up top that they use. There are two, three, four girls up there that are very speedy, have some pace and can put the ball in the back of the net. We’re going to have to be aware of that, so we don’t give up an early goal.”
They said it
Sharos is one of the most experienced players on the Collinsville roster and she can’t wait to participate in the state tournament for the first time.
“I definitely think we need to work together as a team like we’ve been doing all season,” she said. “This is going to be it. This is our last weekend of high-school soccer. As a senior, it’s kind of bittersweet. But I think if we put together 80 minutes of soccer, we can win.”
Kahoks senior Abby Wicklein agreed.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really good competition and I think we’re going to come out and show what we’re really made of, how far we can really go. We built our schedule around this, to get ready for state and prepare for this. We’re ready.”