By Matt Le Cren
For the Bugle
There was a time not long ago when Abby Swanson wasn’t thinking about becoming an All-State soccer player.
All she wanted to do was be able to play the sport again.
The Downers Grove North midfielder suffered a torn ACL her freshman year and spent that season on the bench as the team manager.
“My world flipped over a little bit, my soccer world at least,” Swanson said. “I didn’t know what I was going to be coming back.”
Swanson is one of the best players in the state and she is just scratching the surface of her potential. She followed up a solid sophomore season by leading the Trojans in goals and assists, part of a larger group effort that sparked Downers North to the greatest season in school history.
Swanson tallied 13 goals and 18 assists and led the Trojans to a school-record 20 wins and a fourth-place showing in the Class 3A state tournament. Oh, yes, she also was the first Trojan in more than 15 years to be named All-State.
For those efforts, Swanson is the Voyager Media Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“She’s a soccer player,” Downers North coach Brian Papa said. “She loves the game. If I could ever get her to relax and quit beating herself up, she’s going to be one helluva soccer player because she’s got the instincts that you want in a leader.
“Right now she’s a junior. Once she learns composure, there’s no stopping her. That’s what I’m teaching her.”
Papa, an IHSSCA Hall of Famer who took over the program this year, taught all of his players to aim high. That was helpful even to a player the caliber of Swanson, who surprised herself by earning a starting spot as a sophomore.
“To be starting already sophomore year was kind of crazy,” Swanson said. “So for me I was like, ‘I made it back,’ and that (level) was what I thought (my ceiling) was.
“But over this past year I went into club and I wanted to keep getting better, so (becoming All-State) was a personal goal for this season and it happened, so it was pretty cool.”
A lot happened for the Trojans this year and Swanson was a major catalyst. They earned the No. 1 seed in their own sectional and avenged one of their two regular-season defeats when they beat Lyons 2-1 on penalty kicks in the final.
Swanson likely saved the season when she tied the game on a penalty kick with 14:58 left in the second half, then converted the clinching penalty kick in the shootout.
That gave the Trojans their first sectional title, but Swanson wasn’t done. She was one of five players to make penalty kicks during a 1-0 supersectional upset of traditional power Naperville North, a team that had 10 Division I players.
“I think she brings an intensity that we really need,” Downers North junior goalkeeper Grace Stevenson said. “Sometimes we just kind of need her and she’s able to step in and be like, ‘Hey, guys, we need to come out hard this half, we need to step it up.’
“I think she really helps build up the energy on the field.”
There is a lot of energy in Swanson, particularly in her powerful right leg, which can launch hard shots from 40 yards out or more. Papa is constantly trying to get the unselfish Swanson to shoot more and pass less when she sees an opening.
“That’s been a focus from the coaches to me is to kind of keep getting my head up and look for the shot,” Swanson said. “I tend to pass a lot and spread the wealth a little bit.
“But I need to take my chances too because we just need the ball in the back of the net, one way or the other. I wish it was easy.”
Succeeding like the Trojans did this season is not easy. The program had one only one regional title before this year and the fourth-place trophy is North’s first piece of hardware.
Swanson enjoyed every minute of it.
“It’s playing a sport that you love with your best friends,” Swanson said. “How much better can it get than that?”
How much better can Swanson get? The honors student already has committed to Loyola, but she won’t rest on her laurels with one more high school season left.
“I’m so excited,” Swanson said. “I’ve been talking to (the Loyola) coaches and that will be the next challenge and adventure. I’m going to stay hungry.”
The rest of the Voyager Media All-Area soccer players are:
Senior forward tallied 19 goals and led the Indians to their first conference championship in 36 years. The four-year starter was a three-sport athlete, also starring in golf and basketball.
Senior forward had a team-leading 18 goals and 16 assists. Will play for Ohio Northern. “Megan has outstanding speed and ability with the ball at her feet, which makes her very difficult to defend,” Plainfield North coach Jane Crowe said. “She often draws two or three defenders at a time and still manages to get to the goal.”
Junior defender was Honorable Mention All-Sectional selection. Had five assists and scored the game-winning goal in sectional semifinal victory over York.
Senior forward scored in 16 of 22 games this year and finished with 29 goals and eight assists. All-Southwest Prairie honoree.
Versatile junior had two goals and a team-leading nine assists while playing forward and fullback. All-Sectional and All-East Suburban Catholic pick. “Erin is a dynamic outside back who is able to shut down opposing forwards 1 versus 1,” Oconer said. “When Erin played forward, she was able to use her crafty skills to consistently beat defenders off the dribble to create scoring opportunities for teammates.”
Senior forward had 10 goals and five assists. “Erin is fantastic technically, tactically, and in the air which enables her to play any central position at an extremely high level,” Planfield Central coach Ken Schoen said.
Senior midfielder was a four-year starter who had 12 goals and eight assists this season to earn All-Sectional and All-East Suburban Catholic Conference honoree. “Katie excels with the ball at her feet and is lethal on free kicks,” Benet coach Gerard Oconer said. “She has worked tirelessly to improve some aspect of her game each of the past four seasons and is an exceptional leader.”
Senior defender was a two-time All-Stater and four-time Southwest Prairie selection. Had one goal and two assists this season and 10 goals and 11 assists for her career. “Jamie has great speed, size, touch and an ability to read plays before they happen,” Lockport coach Todd Elkei said. “She has been the anchor of our defense for the past four years.”
Junior goalkeeper had a 0.54 goals-against average and five shutouts. Has verbally committed to Northern Illinois. “Julia has saved over 800 shots in her three years at the varsity level,” Bolingbrook coach Matthew Kocourek said.
Junior defender scored three goals and had one assist. Named All-Sectional and All-West Suburban Silver.
Senior midfielder had eight goals and four assists and earned All-Southwest Prairie and Honorable Mention All-Sectional honors. “Dominique is the most talented player in our program,” Romeoville coach Phil Wicyk said. “Her technical skills are extremely proficient. She is a very dynamic player that other teams have a hard time dealing with.”
Junior defender scored five goals and anchored a defense that posted 11 shutouts. All-Sectional and All-West Suburban Gold pick. “Jen has taken ownership of the back line through her physical, disciplined and composed approach,” DGS coach Chris Hernandez said. “Jen is a commanding defender with the unique ability to come forward into the midfield if necessary.”
Junior midfielder recorded five goals and 11 assists. “Kennedy Messina is a very special player,” Minooka coach Chris Brolley said. “She is the most technical player I have had at Minooka. She has a unique ability to put other players in a spot to succeed but can also create great options for herself.”
Senior forward was a four-year starter and two-year captain. Scored 11 goals and three assists and finished her career with 38 goals and 13 assists.
Senior defender earned All-Sectional and All-Southwest Prairie honors. “She is one of the best defenders in the state,” Plainfield South coach Alfonso Lopez said. “We have her take away every team’s best player and she has kept them all from scoring this season.”
Senior goalkeeper had a career goals-against average of 0.70 and 21 shutouts, ranked sixth in program history. All-Conference and Honorable Mention All-Sectional selection is committed to Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Senior midfielder had 10 goals and 10 assists to earn All-Southwest Prairie Conference honors. “Maddie was the anchor in the center of the field,” Plainfield East Jamie Caruso said. “Maddie made each situation dangerous with her ability to lay the ball off to a teammate or take the shot herself.”
Senior forward had 31 goals and seven assists. Ranks third on the single-season school scoring list. Will play for Penn State.
Junior midfielder tallied seven goals and five assists. Has verbally committed to Howard University. “She is an extremely talented player with outstanding speed, vision and strength on the ball,” Crowe said. “She rarely loses the ball and is the key for us to keep possession.”