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By Brad Spencer
New coach. New season. New team.
Ignacio Ponce, who has replaced Paul Wright as head coach of the OPRF girls soccer program, is starting with a clean slate this season. While Ponce isn’t exactly knew to the program — he’s coached both OPRF girls and boys soccer at several levels for four years — he wants to make clear that this team is getting a fresh start.
“Still don’t know who will start,” he replied in a recent email when asked to name the returning starters on this season’s team. “It is looking pretty even from the talent pool.”
The Huskies had one of their best season’s last year, going 12-6-2 and winning a grueling regional championship by edging St. Ignatius 1-0 in triple overtime. But the downside is the team lost leading scorer Emily Gullo and a group of other talented starters to graduation. The team does have 13 players back from that squad — nine of which are seniors.
Ponce takes a defense-first approach, which should work well considering the talent he has on this team. Back in December, returning goalkeeper Katy Oldach played in the Olympic Development Program Inter-regional Tournament in Boca Raton, Fla. She played three halves and gave up just one goal. Oldach has committed to Grinnell College.
Others back from last season’s team include Katherine Skrine, Sophia Pappageorge, Renata Voci, Sanya Ivonovic, Sara Richert, Mikaela Gillman and Joy Dennis, all seniors. Tess Trinka, Erin Schrobilgen, Maggie Blaha, Meredith Blatner, Ruby Ganzalez return after playing on varsity as freshmen last season.
“I am big on starting the attack from the back,” said Ponce. “You can’t win a team without defense and many times the defense gets overlooked in games. Don’t get me wrong, we need to control the attacking third of the field and score, but it needs to be a single unit on the field.”
Three newbies Ponce is banking on include junior Zoe Snelling, the sophomore Gonzales and senior Ana Agboola.
“Snelling played at the sophomore level last year and is going to be a big part of the back line,” said Ponce. “She provides height and skill that is needed to defend the back line. Gonzalez joined the varsity team at the end of the season last year and now she is going to contribute in the front line with her knowledge of the game.”
Sophomore Wren Osler and junior Alicia Gerin are also expected to contribute significantly this season. “They all have a good vision of the field,” Ponce said of his newcomers. “They can pass and they can shoot.”
The Huskies are scheduled to host Elmwood Park on March 20 (6 p.m.) for their home opener followed by Whitney Young on March 22 (5:30 p.m.). They’ll begin West Suburban (Silver) Conference play against at Glenbard West on April 3.
One game OPRF won’t be playing this season is a cross-town showdown matchup against rival Fenwick. Ponce said the scheduling of the G8 Summit in Chicago had a trickle-down effect on that game that caused a scheduling conflict.
Nonetheless, the first-year head coach said his team is ready to continue the success of last season.
“I was able to work with the varsity during the playoffs last year so I do have an idea of what these girls are capable of,” he said. “The most important thing is that the girls are excited to start fresh. They want to win and they have been working really hard to let it show on the field.”