For the past year, the girls soccer teams at Fenwick, Lyons and Oak Park have been waiting for this moment to arrive.
The only difference between the three programs heading into the inaugural girls Pepsi Showdown-the largest high school girls soccer tournament in the country-is the fact Oak Park had nine games under its belt, while Fenwick and Lyons had only played a combined three games this season because of weather conditions.
“This is really our first chance to get all of our players playing together,” Lyons coach Bill Lanspeary said. “It will be nice to see exactly what we look like with all of our players.
“Hopefully, we can start to build some cohesiveness and really see how well we play together. The Pepsi Showdown will be a great opportunity to see how we measure up against some of the better teams around. I’m excited about being a part of it, and I think the girls are as well.”
The Pepsi Showdown, hosted by Oak Park and Concordia University, officially kicked off on Tuesday night with opening round action of the 32-team showcase (after deadline). The tournament continues on Thursday at 16 different locations before all 32 teams will play at OPRF this Saturday and again April 12.
The title game is slated to be part of a doubleheader with the Chicago Fire on April 20 at Toyota Park.
“This is a great opportunity to showcase our school’s top notch facilities and beautiful downtown area,” Oak Park coach Paul Wright said. “This tournament would not be a go without the support of countless parents, athletic offices and administrators that have helped plan this event for the past few months. They are an integral part of putting high school sports in the spotlight on a weekly basis.”
Lyons, which earned the No. 6 seed and opened up against Larkin, entered the Pepsi Showdown with a 1-1 overall record. Last Saturday, a spring break depleted Lions squad dropped a 5-0 decision to St. Ignatius.
Katie Nasenbenny, Kelsey Holbert, Keegan Kilrea and Hope Spangler are four players to keep an eye on for Lyons.
Number 16-seed Fenwick hosted Andrew in first-round action, in what was just its second game of the season. Barring any upsets, the Friars will travel to face No. 1 seed and state power Wheaton North on Thursday in Sweet 16 action.
“We drew a rough seed for this tournament and play a pretty good Andrew squad in the first round,” Fenwick coach Chris Richter said. “We have some incredible underclassmen in the program right now.
“This is a great opportunity to expose the girls to better teams, better competition and do so earlier in the season than we normally could. The Pepsi Showdown’s single-elimination winner’s bracket is a great opportunity to simulate something we don’t normally see until May. We couldn’t be happier than to be involved.”
Senior Tori Frangella and freshman Mia Patrevito are just two players that are sure to open some eyes for the Friars during tourney play.
And then there’s Oak Park, which played .500 ball during its first nine games, going 4-4-1. “We played four of the top 10 teams the first week of season,” said Wright, who praised the early season play of Lara Jabour, Casey Blaha and McKenzie Kula. “We were in all the games and lost some close ones.
“We are using this tournament to measure ourselves, but also showcase to the community the other great soccer programs. Hopefully, this tournament will open some eyes of parents and players, while helping us develop some players who want to be committed and play at the next level.”