By Bob Narang

By most accounts, the Willowbrook girls soccer team exceeded expectations last season.

If that’s truly the case, the Warriors are looking to do just that again this spring.

After finishing in the top third of the West Suburban Gold, Willowbrook will rely on a talented cast of returnees in hopes of moving up the conference ladder.

“We had a pretty good season last year, were close to .500 with our new varsity coach,” Willowbrook sophomore forward Julianna Paulsen said. “We have a lot of starters back, and we want to do well.”

Many players, like Paulsen and sophomore forward Erinn Bell, are better prepared for the rigors of high-level soccer after learning many lessons from playing on the varsity last season.

“It was fun playing as a freshman on the varsity level,” Bell said. “You get to compete against better and more experienced players, and then you realize how far you’ve come since you first started playing on varsity. I realized you have to be really aggressive and to be more proactive than reactive.”

Del Real said the younger players will have to step their play up to match the experienced players, such as junior goalie Zoe Ericson, senior midfielder Sarah Poirer, senior defender Jessica Ragucci and junior midfielder Kaleigh Rugg. But it was actually sophomore midfielder Lizzy Florey who led the Warriors in scoring in 2017.

“(Our) goalkeeping should be very solid with Zoe coming back after the experience from last season,” Del Real said. “Our defenders have looked very promising during practice and if the midfield and forward lines continue to improve, we should have a pretty strong team that will be able to challenge everyone that we go against. We are looking for great things from our leaders and hope that it will enable to be ready and advance as much as possible in to the state playoffs.”

Paulsen suffered a knee injury in early May that sidelined her for the rest of the season. She credited her offseason work with the Lombard Firebirds for helping take her game to the next level.

“My knee is now completely fine,” Paulsen said. “It was hard to watch last season. I trained a lot harder during the offseason with my club, and it helped get me get ready for this season.”

Bell, who also played for the Lombard Firebirds, already has noticed a big difference in her game this spring.

“Being small and a freshman and going against defenders 6-feet tall, you realize you have to use your strength and what you have to be able to beat them,” Bell said. “I’ve gotten better, and that might help me score more goals this year.

“Mentally and physically, I feel more confident. I feel I can take people one-on-one this year and be able to beat them with my speed and strength.”

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