'Second place is not good enough'

Tom Batters
Lisa Ukleja, one of three senior captians on the Dunlap girls soccer team, scored a goal in a 9-0 win over Woodruff March 22.

The Dunlap girls soccer team has finished second in the Mid-Illini Conference six years in a row.

Lisa Ukleja, one of three senior captains on the team, says “enough is enough.”

“This year, we’re hoping to take it to the next level. We’re looking to upset some teams that we have lost to in the past, and we’re going to play for a conference championship,” she said. “We’re more experienced and we’re growing as a team. We don’t want to finish second again.”

Dunlap coach Wayne Miller said the second-place curse will be broken if the Lady Eagles can increase their scoring and solidify their goalkeeper position.

“Our goal scoring was anemic last year,” said Miller, who has a 224-83-25 record in 16 seasons as Dunlap’s head coach. “We will have to score a few more goals to pull out some close games (Dunlap had 5 ties last year). And, we’re still trying to decide on our starting goalkeeper. Overall, this team is better than last year. We have a lot of talent and leadership.”

Most of the leadership comes from the three senior captains: Ukleja, Abby Barra and Brittany Merriman.

All three captains have started since they were freshmen. They each maintain a grade-point average of at least 3.8.

“All of three of them have what every coach wants to have. They are good kids. They make good decisions, and they play extremely hard,” Miller said.

He called Ukleja a “tough, outstanding tackler who will just rip the ball away from anybody.”

Of Merriman, he said: “She is in tremendous shape. She works hard and has great scoring ability.”

He called Barra a “tenacious defender.”

“We’ll put her on the other team’s best forward, and she won’t get beat too often,” he said.

The defense, which allowed just 14 goals in 22 games last year, will carry the team again this year, Miller said.

Senior Corrine Kreutz, who Miller calls a “hard-nosed defender,” will start again.

Freshman Jordan Gunn will also compete for a starting spot.

Miller said juniors Ali Redington and Beatriz Beckwith will provide some scoring up top.

Freshman Maddie Wolfe and sophomore Emily Stockman will compete for the goalkeeper spot.

“We have good speed up top, and we only lost one player from last year’s defense, which was solid all year long” Merriman said. “I’m excited. I think we’ll be a strong team.”

Dunlap will host the Class AA Regional this year, which Miller said is extra incentive to make a run in the postseason.

“It will be great to have our home crowd there,” he said.

Dunlap has won seven Regional titles in the last 12 years.

Miller said the Mid-Illini Conference race will be a “dogfight,” and the non-conference schedule doesn’t get any easier.

The Lady Eagles play perennial power Peoria Notre Dame in April. Notre Dame defeated Dunlap, 6-1, in the playoffs last season.

“Notre Dame is loaded with talent and they have great coaching,” Miller said. “They got the better of us.”

The non-conference schedule also includes Richwoods (May 2) and Glenbrook North, one of the top-ranked teams in the state (Dunlap Tournament April 18-19).