With nine sophomores on this year’s varsity roster, it’s easy to assume that the Riverside-Brookfield girls soccer team may have a rough 2018. In reality, the Bulldogs have plenty of young talent coupled with good senior leadership to have a successful season.

Second-year head coach Ivek Halic is looking to build on a solid 2017 campaign, during which RBHS went 11-6-2 highlighted by a second-place finish in the Metro Suburban Blue Conference.

“This particular group has a lot of talent and skill,” Kalic said. “Although they are young, they possess a high soccer IQ and understanding of the game. There is a great balance of leadership among the players. We need to continue to progress as a team and individually and gain the necessary experience throughout the season.”

Sophomore forward Grace Larson is the Bulldogs’ top returning scorer. She had nine goals and two assists as an all-Metro Suburban Conference player last season. Midfielder Taylor Kosiak, another talented sophomore added eight goals and two assists in 2017. Sophomore defenders Taylor Jurgens and Evie Roth anchor the backline.

The aforementioned senior leadership will come from goalkeeper Emily Graham and midfielder Vanessa Fragoso. Graham, who will play college soccer at Purdue, recorded 161 saves and eight shutouts last season. Fragoso, a St. Xavier recruit, had three goals and eight assists in 2017.

Fellow seniors set for key roles this year include midfielder Gabby Tarrant (8 goals last season) and forward Allie Kucera. The return of Kucera, who spent her junior year playing club soccer, is a huge addition offensively. She scored 30 goals as a sophomore at RBHS.

The Bulldogs are off to a fast start this season with four shutout victories. RBHS has outscored the opposition 16-0 with wins against Kennedy, Oak Park and River Forest, Argo and Aurora Central Catholic.

The win at OPRF marks the first time in program history that the Bulldogs have beaten the Huskies. Moreover, the early success should provide the Bulldogs with plenty of confidence as they continue to prepare for what will be a rigorous stretch of upcoming matches.

“We focus on each and every game,” Halic said. “We select top opponents in our schedule to prepare us for the challenges at the end of the season. Therefore, preparation is key.”

Indeed, RBHS will face its share of high-quality competition in 2018. The Bulldogs will take part in the annual PepsiCo Showdown beginning April 7. The tournament is spread out over several days and features several of the Chicago area’s best teams and players. It will serve as good preparation for the state tournament in May.

“We structure our schedule against quality opponents each and every year,” said Halic. “This season is no different. Aside from our conference opponents, we are looking forward to the PepsiCo Showdown, our Senior Night Celebration against Illiana Christian, and our season finale against Morton.”

The Bulldogs also face tough opponents in the Metro Suburban Blue. Wheaton Academy is the defending champion. The Warriors went in 7-0 conference play last year edging out the Bulldogs’ 6-1 record. Fenton, Glenbard South and Immaculate Conception are other formidable opponents in the league.

“We are always focused on our conference opponents,” Halic said. “All of the teams within our conference are fully capable of quality soccer with quality players. Teams like Wheaton Academy, Fenton, Glenbard South and IC always have talented players each year and are never easy oppositions to face. Wheaton Academy has also been the conference champion in past years and has always been a quality opponent with talented players.”

RBHS advanced to sectional play in 2016. The Bulldogs believe they can get back to at least that stage if not further in the Class 2A playoffs.

Riverside-Brookfield Bulldogs

Head coach Ivek Halic (2nd season as head coach; 6th overall at RBHS)

Record last year: 11-6-2 (6-1 Metro Suburban Blue); lost to Hinsdale South 3-0 in the Riverside-Brookfield Regional final.

Top Players: Emily Graham, goalkeeper; Vanessa Fragoso, midfielder; Allie Kucera, forward; Gabby Tarrant, midfielder; Grace Larson, forward; Taylor Kosiak, midfielder; Taylor Jurgens, defender; Evie Roth, defender.

Outlook: Getting Kucera back provides a proven scorer to play upfront with the emerging Larson. If Graham can continue her stellar play in net and the young defense continues to improve, the Bulldogs can make a strong run in Class 2A.