As the old saying goes, third time’s a charm, and the Cyclone women’s soccer team has had plenty of charm along with a bevy of achievements for three straight seasons, including another robust 2017.
It’s not a small feat recreating success year after year, but head Coach Al Palar has done just that in his three years leading the program. With each new recruit and signing in the off-season, he has built a women’s soccer dynasty at Moraine Valley now known on the national level. After two seasons each with an Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference and NJCAA Region IV championship plus two trips to the national tournament, Palar was uncertain he would have the numbers and talent to make it a three-peat.
“With each new recruit and signing, I knew we were going to be good but didn’t know we were going to be this good,” Palar said. “We came a long way from our first game this season. I remember thinking during our first preseason game that we might struggle this year, but we made some adjustments early on, figured some things out, and we really started clicking. We had a few close games early, but we were able to squeak by and hang on for the win in all those instances. We didn’t play great in all of our games, but the sign of a really good team is when you can figure out how to win when you are not playing your best. That’s what we did. It wasn’t easy, but we always found a way to get it done this year.”
During the regular season the Cyclones were undefeated, going 17-0 overall and 6-0 in conference for third straight Skyway and Region IV championships and trip to the Division I Women’s Soccer Championship. Two meaningful wins came in a 2-1 overtime victory in early September over nationally ranked Parkland College as well as from the 5-2 win in the region championship game on Nov. 5 over rival Waubonsee Community College. The Cyclones have faced and defeated the Chiefs the last three years in region finals.
“Those are always my favorite games because they mean so much. Especially the region final. The team works so hard all season for that one game because that’s always our main goal—to win the region and qualify for the national tournament,” said Palar, who tallied additional Skyway and Region Coach of the Year honors. “When that final whistle blows and we’re on the winning side, it’s just such a euphoric feeling. I don’t know what it feels like to lose that game, and I don’t plan on knowing any time soon.”
In the last three years, the Cyclones have not lost a conference or region game. The winning culture at Moraine Valley is about attitude, discipline, respect, and accountability, according to Palar. Those standards are set every season for incoming players. From being on time at practice to bonding off the field, all the little things add up to yield continued success. And having the talent helps.
With a crew of skilled sophomores who competed at the 2016 national tournament, the strong recruiting class added another spark. Brooke Janeczek (Lockport Township) became the leading scorer and Region Tournament MVP while Patricia Rzadkosz (Reavis) was a beast with assists. Those two were standouts nationally with Janeczek ranking No. 7 in NJCAA Division I with 29 goals and Rzadkosz topping out at No. 3 for assists (23). They each were named to the All-Region and All-Conference first teams as well.
However, many players stepped up and contributed. Sophomore Grace Rollins (Oak Forest) was unyielding in the net, making key saves in a number of games. “All over the field we were very solid all season long. Defensively we were very good, the middle of the field was always great and our forwards scored goals,” Palar said.
Samantha Moran (Sandburg) also earned a nod to the All-Region first team while Claire Collevy (Marist), Jillian Steinke (Andrew) and Jennifer Warja (Andrew) were All-Region second team. Collevy, Moran, Rollins, Steinke, and Warja were additionally named to the All-Conference first team while Edith Benitez (Reavis), Bedour Elbeitoni (Stagg), Sylvia Kordaczka (Lockport Township), Karen Montoya (Eisenhower), Eve Stolzenbach (Beecher), and Abby Tiemersma (Chicago Christian) received nods to the All-Conference second team.
Competing at nationals (Nov. 13-17) in Melbourne, Florida, proved to be another challenge and the lone source of the Cyclones’ losses. After two games, the No. 10 ranked Cyclones were eliminated with one of those losses coming from the runners up—ASA College. The number of talented international players on those teams plus their ability to compete against top squads out of their region put Moraine Valley at a disadvantage. But the Cyclones persevered and represented their college well. They’ll be eyeing another trip to nationals in 2018.
“This season was really great. I think next year has a really good chance of being even better than this year. We will have 10 returning players, five returning starters. This recruiting class is very promising as well. I’ve already started the process with some top level recruits. If all goes well, we will be very, very dominant again next year,” Palar said. “As always, I’m already looking forward to next year!”