When Illiana Christian girls soccer coach AJ Turkstra started the season, he thought this was going be a dreaded "rebuilding" year.
What Turkstra found out is that he has plenty of talent and a defense that has produced six shutouts and five 1-0 wins. The Vikings have also posted an 8-6 record in 2013 and would love to pick up two more wins at the Oak Forest Regional.
"At tryouts, I was really nervous," Turkstra said. "Then I took on these young kids. I had a bunch of freshmen who hadn't played at the varsity level. As the year went on though, the girls showed that they could learn quickly."
A large part of Illiana Christian's success came from a foursome of freshmen who start and are making a difference on the pitch. Paige Osika, Mikinsey Pruim, Claire Beezhold and Brittany Groen were just the thing the Vikings needed to stay competitive in 2013. Pruim, a goalkeeper, will get the credit for all six of those shutouts in the stat book.
"It's a little nerve racking," Pruim said of playing keeper as a freshman, "but as the season goes on, I'm getting used to it, and it's becoming easier."
Illiana Christian's four starting freshman each play at a different level on the field, so they make up a big part of the Vikings game at both ends of the pitch. Osika is a forward and sees her team as a passionate bunch that meshes well together.
"The team works really great together," Osika said. "There's no division because of the age or the grade. We play with a lot of heart. We're not the strongest or the best, but we just have a love for the game."
The Vikings will start tournament play against familiar foe Tinley Park at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Oak Forest Regional. The Titans have knocked the Vikings out of the tourney two of the last four seasons in regional championship matches.
"This won't be a regional final, it will be the first round," Turkstra said, "but we see them a lot in the postseason. We've never been able to beat 'em, but we've had really close games both times. They beat us 2-1 two years ago, and three years ago they beat us 1-0 in penalty kicks after four overtimes here at Paarlberg Park."
Beezhold, a defender, believes a lot of the defensive success has come from Illiana Christian's base.
"The thing that has been working for the defense is that we have a solid set defense that we use every game," Beezhold said. "It seems to be working for us pretty well. At the beginning of the year we were a little new to each other, as the season has gone on, we definitely started to get closer together. Now we really know how to work with each other well."
Groen is a midfielder for the Vikings and credits senior leadership for bringing the team together.
"As the season went on, the team really pulled us together," Groen said. "Especially the captains, and we all became really close. I think if we stay positive and keep our heads up that we have a pretty good chance in the playoffs."