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By Bob Narang

Wheaton Academy’s Emma Goble called it a dream come true.

Mother McAuley’s Julissa Gomez is excited to represent her team.

Goode Academy’s Michelle Simmons said it’s a symbol of her growth in soccer.

The responses varied from each player, but there was one underlying theme from girls soccer players in 2020: The life-sized PepsiCo Showdown posters are super cool.

As part of the 18th Annual PepsiCo Showdown, players from participating teams in the massive April event took part in the latest photo shoot in early January just outside Chicago.

Goble flashed an ear-to-ear smile when asked about her excitement waiting to see her poster hanging this spring.

“I thought it was always cool to see the life-sized posters hanging at PepsiCo in the past,” Goble said. “I’ve always been jealous of them, but now to finally get a chance to have one is special.”

Gomez noted she’s the only player from her team to get a poster this season, and it’s an honor she will cherish for many years.

“I’m pretty excited that my poster will be up there to represent Mother McAuley,” Gomez said. “I’m also excited to take it home.

“I had a friend from Stagg get one, and she looked strong in it. I kind of wanted to look intimidating in mine.”

Simmons is a relative newcomer to soccer, but she’s become a fast study. The senior relished the experience of taking various poses during her photo shoot.

“I didn’t start playing soccer until I was a sophomore,” Simmons said. “I started at the bottom and now I’m at the (top) with this (poster). I don’t really have the space at home, so mine will hang at school. I always wanted one when I saw them at school. I just knew I had to try hard and kept working to get it.”

Wauconda senior Morgan Lung admitted that it will be a bewildering experience spotting her poster among the 100s of other players at the PepsiCo Showdown.

“It’s really cool to see them, because there are so many,” Lung said. “It’s actually kind of overwhelming at first to look at them.

“It’s so cool and weird to see yourself on a poster. This is kind of like a trophy, a memento of all the hard work you’ve done.”

Garcia senior midfielder Amethyst Vazquez said her poster will be a lifelong memory of her experiences playing soccer.

“It’s a big deal, and my teammates are going to be excited to see mine,” Vazquez said. “I’ll save it for the rest of my life.”

Joliet West’s Bailey Pubentz pointed out that her poster is the culmination of all the work she’s put into the sport for the last 14 years. The senior defender added that the posters are a small part of the excitement centered around competing in the PepsiCo Showdown, which also includes community service projects and charitable donations by student athlete for those in need.

“I was the only one on the team to do a player poster last year, and it was super exciting,” Pubentz said. “All my teammates saw it.

“I remember starting at the beginning of all the posters and went down looking for it at PepsiCo. It was crazy, because I have never seen a picture of myself that big.

“I’m super excited for PepsiCo this year. I had a lot of fun last year. The other tournaments we’ve done in high school are nowhere near the excitement and experiences.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 25 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.