With Danny Makaric at the helm and Allie Kucera scoring goals, the past two seasons represented a golden age for the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls soccer program.
Now the Bulldogs will find out if they can keep the good times rolling without them.
Kucera, a junior striker who scored over 30 goals as a sophomore, has elected to play club soccer this season, while Makaric stepped down as head coach, giving the reins to assistant Ivek Halik.
While RBHS has no players as talented as Kucera, expectations remain high coming off a 2016 season that saw the Bulldogs go 14-7-3 and advance to the Class 2A sectional semifinals. RBHS won its second straight regional championship and third overall before losing 2-1 to St. Ignatius.
“(Kucera) is a great player,” Halik said. “It’s a big loss.
“(Playing without her) is not easy, but we just want to have everyone working together, playing as one unit. So far it’s been working.”
After bad weather cancelled or postponed their first five games, the Bulldogs finally got the season started Friday, March 24 by knocking off Argo 2-1 on the road.
Freshman Taylor Kosiak scored the game-winning goal in the second half off an assist from senior Kathryn Sessler. Junior Gabby Tarrant had scored the Bulldogs’ first goal in the first half, with freshman Grace Larson getting the assist.
Sessler, a four-year varsity player and three-year starter at midfield, is one of only five seniors on the roster.
Though small, that class provides plenty of leadership. Midfielder Esther Annoreno, a four-year starter who will continue her playing career at Concordia, was second on the team in scoring last year and assisted on many of Kucera’s goals. Ivy Marcucci is a returning starter on defense.
“They are huge role models,” said Halik, who had been an assistant coach the past five seasons. “All three have been leaders on and off the field. It’s been a lot easier for me to make a smooth transition.”
The rookies acquitted themselves well against Argo, a Class 3A school. Larson, Evie Roth, Mazzy Marcucci, Megan Riordan and Sophia DiForti all started in their prep debuts.
“They definitely played a big role,” Halik said. “They’re doing well. I’m very pleased with their production and hard work so far.”
As usual, the Bulldogs will play a tough non-conference schedule to prepare for the state playoffs, including games against 3A teams such as Maine South, Leyden, Morton and Lake Park. Not having a proven scorer like Kucera will make that task tougher, but Halik won’t let his players use that as an excuse.
“It’s not necessarily a rebuilding year, but I’m holding these girls to high expectations,” Halik said. “These girls are putting in a lot of hours to get to where we want to go. They are working hard.”
The Bulldogs are off until April 4, when they host Romeoville in the home opener. A previously postponed home game against Lake Park has been rescheduled for May 6.