Prairie Ridge rides shutout streak

Prairie Ridge's Bri Fenton (left) and Cary-Grove's Megan Townsley go for the ball April 25. Prairie Ridge won, 1-0, and has 11 consecutive shutouts.
Prairie Ridge's Bri Fenton (left) and Cary-Grove's Megan Townsley go for the ball April 25. Prairie Ridge won, 1-0, and has 11 consecutive shutouts.

JC Brown wanted his Prairie Ridge girls soccer team to play more aggressive defensively, but it took them time to learn.

The Wolves started the season 1-2-1.

They've been perfect on defense since, running off 11 consecutive shutouts while grabbing sole possession of first place in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division.

"It's kind of crazy," Brown said. "When you look back, you almost want to lose games early on rather than now so you can figure out what you need to work on and make changes."

Brown changed things in the fall with the boys team and it caught on quickly, but it took longer with the girls team because poor weather prevented them from being able to go outside.

Some key issues such as playing laid back, not applying constant defensive pressure and marking up took longer to fix because spacing was an issue in limited gym space and the speed of the game was different inside.

Eventually, the Wolves were forcing opposing players to make quick decisions, which makes opponents play with their heads down and can lead to turnovers.

During the streak, they have defeated strong conference teams such as Crystal Lake South and its tough defense, a physical Cary-Grove team that likes to bump players off the ball and score in bunches with athletic forwards and solid McHenry and Jacobs teams.

"It's tough to play them," Jacobs coach Anthony Cappello said. "They do the little things right."

Brown, with the help of his two captains, has made it a fun, winning culture at Prairie Ridge. 

"I make sure everyone is comfortable," said Bri Fenton, a midfielder who is one of two captains. "We work well as a team in keeping things positive."

Upon taking over this season, Brown said he was fortunate enough that former head coach Josh Iverson left him with a hard-working group of players who were passionate about the game. The only issue for Brown was finding the right balance for himself in his coaching style.

He can be heard joking and laughing with his team on the sidelines during games. In practice, however, he has shown a more serious side after a key meeting.

"After a couple practices I talked to my captains and they said, 'You need to push us harder,' and getting that feedback was huge," Brown said.

The talk with captains Jordyn Reitz and Fenton took away some of the new coach pressures and allowed him to see how his team felt about winning. So Brown started to work the team hard but also stay true to his nature and set goals.

If the Wolves win regionals, where they're the top seed of the Class 2A Marengo Regional, he'll dye his hair. Sectionals, he'll shave his head.

"He was really relaxed in the beginning and didn't really know he had to push us," Reitz said. "Then he started giving us punishments if we didn't try hard enough in certain things and it worked because no one wanted to run."

Now, they're running. And they're running over opponents.

But that hasn't changed how they are with each other.

"It's cool because a lot of players are pushing because they want to be better than each other," Reitz said, "and you wouldn't even know that by seeing how well we get along."

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