In a season-ending loss to Burlington Central in last year’s Class 2A sectional semifinals, the Prairie Ridge defense held off the Rockets for more than 60 minutes.
Burlington Central sent long pass after long pass up the field, and the Wolves thwarted every attempt. Prairie Ridge couldn’t find the net on the other end.
“As a defender, our last game of last season did not go how I wanted it,” Prairie Ridge senior Abby Klimkowski said. “It was a defensive game for us. The defense put in a lot of work.”
Burlington wound up scoring twice in the final 20 minutes for a 2-0 win, handing 17-1 Prairie Ridge its only loss of the season. For the Wolves, that loss still stings.
Flash forward 10 months: Prairie Ridge heads into the 2019 season with eight seniors who are ready to roll.
“We’ve got eight seniors that are just all quality,” first-year head coach Mark Lewis said. “We’ve got some freshmen that I think are going to make some noise. I just think it’s an amazing group that works well together."
Former coach Andre Watson left to become the men’s soccer coach at Harper College. In steps Lewis, who was Watson’s assistant for the past three years. Lewis also is a coach with the Crystal Lake Force club team.
“He’s my club coach. I’ve gotten to know him very well,” Klimkowski said. “He’s a very good coach. He’s definitely taking things differently than Andre, but sometimes change is good.”
Klimkowski is one of the eight seniors, and Lewis called her “the quarterback.” She patrolled the back line for the Wolves last year, when they recorded 13 shutouts in 18 games.
Klimkowski committed last summer to play in college at Northern Illinois but switched her commitment to Purdue Fort Wayne, which also is Division I. She is happy to have sophomore goalkeeper Sam Gablenz back in net behind her.
Gablenz, who doesn’t play goalkeeper on her club team, stepped into the role last year as a freshman and exceeded all expectations, allowing three goals in 13 regular-season appearances.
“I was so surprised,” Klimkowski said. “I thought, in the beginning, we were just throwing her in because we needed to.”
Did Lewis expect Gablenz to have that type of success in goal?
“Yes,” Lewis said. “I know that sounds ridiculous after the fact, but we really did. We knew what we were getting. She’s just a quality kid.”
Klimkowski’s sister, Lucy Klimkowski, will step into a larger role in the midfield. Nikki Anderson returns at forward, where she scored nine goals and had 14 assists. Fellow forward Abby Eriksen recorded 10 goals and nine assists a year ago.
Prairie Ridge’s competition in the Fox Valley Conference will be stiff. Cary-Grove’s Sheehan twins, McKenna (Missouri) and Kailyn (Florida Gulf Coast) are both playing at D-I colleges in the fall. The Trojans also return sophomore Jenna Stayart after a 14-goal season in 2018.
Crystal Lake South has won three straight regionals and also boasts a D-I defender (Maggie Rimer, Oakland University). Jacobs won a Class 3A regional title and returns its top two goal scorers (Cassie Kowalski and Baylee Vincent). Crystal Lake Central almost won a regional title last year, and returns top scorer Emma Bolanowski.
“Everybody’s going to be competitive with the Fox Valley,” Lewis said. “We just want to take care of our own business.”