Prep sports: Standout performances highlight soccer, tennis seasons in Sauk Valley

State appearances on court, close wins on field highlight 2023

Sterling’s Brecken Peterson competes in the Class 1A Boys State Tennis Meet at Conant High School on Thursday, May 25, 2023.

As we look back at the spring 2023 season before turning a page to next school year, here are five things that stood out the last few months in boys tennis and girls soccer.

Record-breaking season for Peterson

Sterling junior Brecken Peterson had the best tennis season by a Golden Warrior ever, winning 31 matches to break the single-season school record of 29 set by Jack Nitz in 2016.

Peterson also became the first Sterling tennis player in quite some time to earn a seed as one of the top 16 players at the state meet, as he was seeded in the 9-16 range heading into state.

For the second straight season, Peterson went 3-2 in the suburbs, advancing to the fourth round of the consolation bracket to match his run as a sophomore in 2022.

And he’ll be back next year to help anchor the lineup as a senior – which will be key, as the Warriors lose 10 players to graduation, including starting doubles players Connor Pham, Elias Jensen and Hunter Lofgren.

But with Peterson and fellow singles player Yamaan Alkhalaf, as well as doubles players Ben Boze, Brady Shank and Iker Zaragoza returning from this spring’s lineup, Sterling will have plenty of experience to build around in 2024.

Newman’s Logan Palmer eyes the ball while playing against Dixon’s Damian Beck Tuesday, May 9, 2023.

Palmer ends season with another trip to state

In a rebuilding year for the Newman Comets, junior Logan Palmer finished things off with his first trip to the state tournament.

It was a fitting end to the school year for Palmer, who also advanced to the state golf tournament for the first time back in the fall.

One of only two players returning to the lineup after the Comets lost seven seniors from the 2021 season, Palmer and sophomore Ryan Partington provided leadership this spring, and got some help from seniors Carson Palmer, Sam Neisewander and Raul Reyes-Zamora and juniors JP Ryan and Andrew Downs, who filled in a few spots in the lineup throughout the season.

Newman will rely on those non-seniors to come back and lead the way again next season after five more seniors graduated last month.

Dixon’s Emily Smith makes a pass against Alleman Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Duchesses’ defense was up to the task

The Dixon girls soccer team wasn’t the highest-scoring group to start the season, but found ways to win thanks to its defense.

Throw out lopsided losses to Alleman and Geneseo to open the season and a 7-0 loss to Boylan to end it, and the Duchesses allowed a total of 13 goals in 17 games, went 9-4 in games decided by two goals or less, and gave up more than one goal in a game just three times – and two of those were losses of 2-0 and 2-1.

In Big Northern Conference games, Dixon (12-8, 7-1 BNC) allowed a total of four goals in regulation, and pitched five shutouts. The Duchesses’ lone league loss was 2-1 to Stillman Valley, and they defeated Rockford Christian 3-1; the other goal allowed came in a 1-1 tie with Oregon, a game which the Duchesses won in penalty kicks.

Dixon won four BNC games 1-0, and in nonconference games also notched a 1-0 win over Harlem, a 2-0 win over Mendota, and a win in PKs after tying tournament host Princeton 1-1 early in the season.

Thanks to the defensive prowess early on, the Duchesses had time to find their footing on offense, which they did down the stretch; in May, they beat Rockford Lutheran 6-0, Sterling 9-0, and then Belvidere 6-0 in their 2A regional semifinal.

The loss of seniors Hanna Lengquist, Sydney Chesley, Emma Jones, Leah Kuehl and Kaytie Miller will be felt, for sure, but with six all-conference players (Emily Smith, Maggie Van Sickle, Kailey Helfrich, Avery Burmeister, Makenzie Toms and goalkeeper Maddy McLane) returning next season, along with contributors like Meredith Foulker, Leah Stees, Leah Carlson and Micki Worrell, among others, there is a lot of experience to help fill those graduates’ shoes.

Dixon won eight of its final 12 games of the season, and that strong finish paired with all the returning players could mean big things for the Duchesses in 2024.

Hinckley Big Rock goalkeeper Danielle Rankin dives on the ball as two Oregon players Alyssa Mowry (6) and Anna Stender (2) move in on the play during a Monday, April 10 game at Oregon Park West.

Hawks fight despite heartbreakers

Another local soccer team that played in a lot of close games this season was Oregon, and the Hawks quickly learned to fight through adversity.

Relying on its stingy defense, Oregon (11-6-2) was right there in almost every game it played this season. And while some of them didn’t go the Hawks’ way, they never stopped battling.

A 3-1 regional semifinal win over Genoa-Kingston put the Hawks in the regional final for the fourth time in the last five seasons, sending seniors like Sophie Stender, Alyssa Mowry and Gracie Prose out with one more postseason victory.

And while the last loss was another tough one – 2-1 to host Indian Creek in the regional final – it will help set the tone and fuel the fire for next season. Returning players like all-conference picks Teagan Champley, Mya Engelkes and Anna Stender will look to keep building the program.

Sterling’s Lainey Block brings the ball upfield against Oregon Monday, April 24, 2023.

Sterling shows heart despite struggles

The Golden Warriors won just one soccer game this spring, but that doesn’t really describe the season accurately.

With a roster that got smaller as the season wore on, Sterling’s players never stopped giving their all on the field. Led by all-conference players Olivia Turner and Lainey Block – both of whom played offense and defense at times, depending on the opponent and the game situation – the Warriors relied on their full complement of players to provide contributions.

Thanks to the regular substitutions through each game, Sterling got a lot of younger players plenty of experience, and that will only help the program moving forward. Add in the strong play of junior goalkeeper Mireya Lopez down the stretch this spring, and the Warriors should have a solid base to build from for 2024.

Ty Reynolds

Ty Reynolds

Ty is the Sports Editor at Sauk Valley Media, and has covered sports in the Sauk Valley for more than two decades.