The last two years the Cyclone women’s soccer team has topped both the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference and NJCAA Region IV while making two consecutive trips to nationals. This success has put a target on their backs but hasn’t distracted them from aiming for a third dominating run.

The 2017 crew is primarily new with only four returners after a number of Cyclones graduated, including top scorer Marbella Rodriguez. But heavy recruiting throughout the year yielded another strong group. With so many fresh faces, one thing will make a difference this season.

“Attitude. We have the same attitude and culture we created over two years. Everyone wants to be better and have a starting position. It’s good, friendly competition within the team. We need that attitude to work extremely hard in practices so games are that much easier,” said head Coach Al Palar, in his third year leading the Cyclones. “The expectations and standards are high, but the goals don’t change.”

Adding more championships to their cache and taking a third trip to Florida for nationals are on the Cyclones’ radar. Not knowing how much their competitors have improved over the year is one uncertainty going into the season, but so is blending 13 new players and four returners on the team. Palar, however, is feeling confident.

Yesenia Perez (Eisenhower) should be a major goal scorer while Brooke Janeczek (Lockport Township) and Patricia Rzadkosz (Reavis) will be needed set-up players. Colleen Collevy (Marist) and Jennifer Warja (Andrew) will be strong on the back line as well.

Not only are there a number of new athletes, but Palar’s assistant is new as well. Luis Navarrete, a former Cyclone soccer player himself, joins the sidelines. “Luis has always been a leader. [Former assistant coach] James [Kline] is a huge loss, but Luis has a good report; he’s genuine,” Palar said. “He’s still learning, but he’ll get the hang of it. His passion of the game will transfer to the players.”

As for the returning bunch, Palar is looking to sophomores Edith Benitez (Reavis) and Jillian Steinke (Andrew) to help lead the young squad and make plays happen on the field. Their experience at nationals will be beneficial.

In the past two years, the Cyclones haven’t given up more than two goals in the region. They’ve set the bar high, but are ready for the challenge.

“There are big shoes to fill, but I have no doubt in our players every time they step on the field,” Palar said. “Already this group is so on top of things, they get stuff done, even the little stuff which translates on the field. I think it’ll be a good, fun, positive year. There are good vibes.”