By Mat Le Cren
For the Bugle
Katie Gesior was heading into seventh grade when Benet soccer coach Gerard Oconer first saw her play.
Neither foresaw how good Gesior would become in the ensuing six years.
“I remember seeing her at our camp going into seventh grade and she’s been at our camp every single summer since, actually worked the last one,” Oconer said. “When she came in as a seventh grader, she was a good player but I didn’t know if she was going to be that great of a player.
“She’s just elevated her game every single year. She carries us when we really need it. She is the one person that you can always count on.”
Indeed, Gesior is the one player insiders think of when speaking of the Redwings.
The only four-year varsity player on the current roster, the senior midfielder has evolved into the team’s most dangerous offensive player and a consummate leader.
“Essentially she is Benet soccer,” Oconer said. “She is the kind of player that you hope to mold your younger players after because every single year she’s found a way to improve her game in some aspect.”
Indeed, Gesior’s transformation has been startling.
A defensive-minded player at the beginning of her high school career, Gesior has 33 goals and 23 assists in her career, including 10 goals and five assists this season.
“Katie is definitely the glue to our team,” said fellow co-captain Betsy Keefe. “She brings us all together and she knows exactly what to say when we need it.
“On the field, she’s what we need in the center leading us. She’s definitely an important part of the team and I don’t know what they’re going to do next year. Luckily I don’t have to play without her.”
Gesior has made the greatest impact this season.
The Redwings (11-6) returned 10 starters but are still a relatively young team, with only four seniors.
With age has come increased confidence, both in herself and her teammates.
“I have more confidence on the ball,” Gesior said. “I used to play defensive and my sole role was to win tackles and get it out, but now I feel I’m more in control of the game.
“I can keep it at my feet and I’m not afraid to take anyone on anymore. I’m comfortable going to goal and not just playing it off.”
Gesior enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, when she scored a team-leading 11 goals and earned All-Sectional honors after leading the Redwings to the East Suburban Catholic Conference championship.
Most of those goals came on free kicks and penalty kicks.
Gesior developed a reputation as one of the most dangerous players on restarts.
“I think my team has confidence in me, so it doesn’t worry me that, “oh, I have to finish it, there’s so much pressure,” Gesior said. “So then I can just calmly step up to the ball.
“I know that I’ve done it before and I have confidence to put it in. My team is not going to yell at me and kill me for it if I don’t put it in and I know that they’ll come out strong.”
Gesior still takes most of Benet’s free kicks, but she is much more than a dead ball diva.
She proved that by scoring twice in the run of play against powerful St. Charles East in the season opener.
The Saints, who are currently 8-1-3, came back to win that game 3-2, but Gesior had found a new level of confidence.
She has since scored two game-winning goals and assisted on two others.
That has the Redwings, who are in the Nazareth Sectional, the toughest Class 2A field in the state, hoping for great things in the postseason.
They won a sectional title in 2012, the last time they played in Class 2A.
“Every year has been a different team,” Gesior said. “I wouldn’t say any team has been similar at all with all the different players graduating, but I would say we’ve always had a solid team.
“I’ve always had confidence that we can win and have a deep run in the playoffs. It’s been a good four years.”
Gesior was recruited to play college soccer but has elected to play only club soccer at St. Louis University, so the upcoming playoffs will be the end of an era, both for Gesior and the Redwings.
“I was kind of looking but I wanted (college) to be more of a calm experience because throughout my whole 18 years it has been soccer, soccer, soccer,” Gesior said. “So I wanted to have academics be more of the focus and not have soccer dominate my life.
“It’s very sad to be leaving this atmosphere because all the girls try really hard and everyone is very skilled, so it will be very different next year.”