Jordan Ginther is the top goalkeeper in area, and one of the best in the state.
But for most of Kaneland's scoreless tie against DeKalb last week, the Knights' goalkeeper just stood and watched while the four defenders in front of her made her job easy. The Purdue commit has kept her team in plenty of matches by making spectacular saves, but Wednesday, her role was ancillary.
“They're pretty darn good,” coach Scott Parillo said of his back line. “They've been pretty solid throughout the year, but they're starting to get much better.”
The Knights have certainly been tested this season against strong offensive teams, and St. Charles East, the No. 2 seed in the competitive Class 3A Hoffman Estates Sectional, was the only team to put up multiple goals against them.
Ginther has been called upon to make plenty of big saves, but Parillo thinks his defense has improved because of those high-pedigree opponents.
“Playing some of those tough teams, you have to get up for those [matches] because they could get ugly real quick,” he said.
Freshman Sage Schlehofer has been a revelation for the Knights this season as an athletic, skilled sweeper. She's surrounded by veterans, including outside backs Brooke Harner and Anne Marie Giese, who are both captains, and junior stopper Delaney Stryczek. That veteran presence has been important for the young player's development, but it also made her timid early in the year in a position that requires assertiveness.
“Because she's the farthest one back, she has to be talking the most,” Harner said. “At first she was intimidated as a freshman, now she's not afraid.”
Schlehofer has learned plenty during her freshman season, and against DeKalb, she was heavily involved in keeping the ball out of Ginther's penalty area.
“I learned from [veteran teammates] to have self control, hold the ball and wait until there are opportunities to pass, and to just relax,” Schlehofer said. “I learned to pass more and to really talk and to know who's open so I can have more options to pass the ball.”
The Knights don't have a deep bench, so those four play almost every minute of every match.
If Kaneland makes a deep run in the Class 2A playoffs, Ginther will eventually have to make some spectacular plays. But even the best goalkeepers can't get to every shot, so the ability to stay in matches will also be determined by this strong defensive corps.
“For the most part, we expect our players to play most of the game, and for the most part they've been able to do that,” Parillo said. “We've been pretty fortunate. … They work really hard and they work really well together."