Holy Cross women end season in CCAC quarterfinals

The Holy Cross College women’s soccer team recently played the Olivet women’s team in their opening round of the CCAC tournament.

The last time the two squads played, Olivet was able to defeat the Saints 0-3. Armed with a new strategy, the Saints hoped to shut down the Olivet offense, forcing turnovers to generate scoring chances.

Unfortunately for the Saints, things did not go according to plan.

Olivet was able to shoot early and often, taking 10 shots in the first half alone. The Saints were only able to shoot once, with senior midfielder Olivia Shaw taking the shot in the 26th minute.

Holy Cross sophomore goalie Taylor Primack faced four shots on goal in the first half, and she turned away all but one, which came in the 38th minute (scored by Olivet’s Annabel Murley). That 1-0 margin was the halftime score.

The Saints opened up the half with some early shots, but both missed the net. Olivet’s first shot of the half found twine, with Alaina Bahr assisting Olivia Lorenc for the score.

The Saints generated more offense in the second half than they did in the first, taking nine of their ten total shots.

However, Olivet’s goalie, Tessa Kowalski, shut out the Saints, and the Tigers would win 2-0.

Saints battled adversity to reach tournament

The Saints failed to earn either of the conference’s two automatic bids to the NAIA tournament and are unlikely to qualify for an at-large bid.

Instead, the Saints will finish their season with a 6-6-7 record overall and a 5-5-3 record in conference play.

The Saints had two notable bright spots this year, making history in two different ways. The team went 1-0-3 in an unbeaten non-conference regular season, which was a program first.

The Saints also saw senior midfielder Lauren Cernak break both the goal and assists records for the program. By setting those two records, Cernak earned 100 career points and became the career points leader for the program.

Though the season ended earlier than the team had hoped, the women’s season was able to battle through difficult injury problems, rallying late in the season to make the conference tournament.

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Holy Cross women earn draw with St. Francis

The Holy Cross women’s soccer team wrapped up a two-game visit to the Chicago area by tying the University of St. Francis, 0-0.

Tuesday night’s result marked the Saints’ fifth draw of the year, but this one was especially crucial in the context of conference play. Holy Cross dropped its first two CCAC matches at home, but has now secured four points in two road games after a Saturday win at Governors State. 

St. Francis entered the contest on an offensive power surge, having netted eight goals in its previous two outings to obtain a record of 6-1. However, Holy Cross was up to the challenge, holding the Fighting Saints to less than two goals for just the second time this season and outshooting the opponent 25-16. For Saints head coach Omar Gallo, Tuesday’s defensive statement was all about adjustments.

“The game plan was to defend in a mid-block, but what I appreciate the most about this women’s team is their ability to improvise and adapt with the flow of the game,” Gallo said. “St Francis’ front six is unbelievable in the attack, and, with them putting three in the back, our girls identified that immediately. We had to change our style defensively and went into a high-pressing mode, eliminating their buildup from there.”

Though little squeaked through the Saints’ cohesive back end, whatever did was managed well by sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Primack. The Illinois native made six saves en route to her fourth shutout of the season and second consecutive clean sheet. As Holy Cross prepares to enter the heart of conference play, the netminder is on her game.

“The best way to describe [Primack] is consistent,” Gallo said. “The goalkeeping position is all about confidence, and right now she’s riding the wave of her confidence. When she was called upon in these last couple games, she stepped up and made some key saves.”

Further up the pitch, the Holy Cross offense pressured St. Francis with a season-high 25 shots attempted. In the Saints’ first two CCAC losses, they were outshot 54-27 by Cardinal Stritch and Judson. Since that troubling start, they have outdone Governors State and St. Francis by a margin of 44-33 in the shot department. Senior midfielder Lauren Cernak has spearheaded the turnaround, posting a team-best nine shots on Tuesday. She also scored and assisted twice in the week leading up to the St. Francis match. Coach Gallo set a six-shot goal for her on Tuesday, and Cernak exceeded expectations.

“The conference knows who [Cernak] is, so she’ll be manmarked at all times,” Gallo said. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to find ways to be creative and put her in situations where she’s had success in the past. She’s been able to buy into that over the last couple games, and setting a target for her really paid off.”

Holy Cross now carries an overall record of 2-2-5 and a conference mark of 1-2-1. The Saints currently sit in 9th place among the CCAC’s 14 teams, but the remaining nine conference matches yield ample opportunity to climb. With September nearing its close, the Holy Cross women are poised to emerge from the pack.

“What I enjoyed about my team is that they were frustrated after the game because they wanted to win,” Gallo said. “It shows me that I have a group who’s hungry right now.”

Looking ahead, the Saints return to South Bend to host CCAC foes in St. Xavier (Saturday) and Indiana University-South Bend (Wednesday). St. Xavier, much like St. Francis, carries a dynamic offense into the contest after a 5-2 victory over Governors State. The Cougars have been vulnerable on the back end, though, allowing multiple goals in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, IU-South Bend is off to a brutal start, allowing 50 goals and scoring none in an 0-7-0 opening.

“We have to build off the momentum of our defensive work that we’ve had the last two games,” Gallo said. “If we do well defensively, we should put ourselves in position to get a W. Though the results have been great on the road, there is a sense of urgency to get three points on Saturday.”


Primack, Nyenka take on leadership roles for Holy Cross soccer

Like most athletes, Holy Cross sophomore goaltender Taylor Primack has role models who inspired her to play her chosen sport. For Primack, those players are Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd, both of whom played on the 2015 US Women’s World Cup team. 

Unlike most collegiate athletes, however, Primack waited until the 4th grade to begin playing soccer competitively. The love of the game came almost instantly, with Primack going all in after the women’s team won the World Cup in 2015.  

Primack has been a goaltender almost her entire athletic career, realizing that she loved the position from her first game in net.

“I just love flying through the air … I love getting the rush of taking a girl 1-on-1, throwing myself in front of the ball and being able to guide my back line,” she said.

Primack is just a sophomore, but she has been starting in net for both years for Holy Cross, recording 24 starts in 24 games. While some might be nervous to start as a freshman, Primack was ready.

“I kind of knew going into it that what it was going to be, but for me, it didn’t change anything,” she said. “I’m never going to sit here and be like, oh it’s good enough just because I am starting, just because I’m playing”.

Though there were some adjustments to the college game (Primack says her biggest adjustment was the change in intensity and speed), Primack recorded an strong first year in net. In her 16 starts, she faced 124 shots, allowing just 14 goals for a save percentage of 88.7%. She recorded eight total shutouts (a school record) and had a record of 8-4-2. 

The performance was good enough to get her onto the CCAC All-Conference Second Team.

Primack has maintained a good save percentage this season, allowing 11 goals on 58 shots (81%), and has recorded three shutouts. 

Primack attributes the difference in performance to a combination of things, injury being among them. Nevertheless, she is not letting it stop her or her team.

“The biggest key with that right now is just to let that go because we can’t change it,” she said. “It’s gone, we’re in conference play.”

The season has not been going the way the Saints would have liked.

“We have been a little frustrated,” she said. “We know how good of a team we are; that is not a question, the talent on the team … that’s not questionable.”

Primack believes that the squad is capable of solid play and can make a turnaround on the season.

“I expect us to make the tournament, I fully do,” she said. “I think we are fully capable of it, I expect nothing less.” 

With a 2-0 win against Governors State last Saturday, a game in which Primack recorded a shutout, that turnaround might have just begun. 

Also boasting a win over Governors State is the HCC men’s junior forward Gabe Nyenka. Unlike Primack, Nyenka has been playing soccer from a young age.

“I was born in Liberia. Back home kids used to play soccer, just kicking it around, as soon as you can walk,” he said.

Even from a young age soccer has always been Nyenka’s passion. As child, Nyenka played soccer year-round, mostly casually with friends and family. 

Upon arriving at Park Center Senior High School, Nyenka tried out for his high school soccer team as a sophomore and made the varsity team.

“When I first joined people thought I wasn’t going to make the team, I ended up starting,” he said.  

Playing in Minnesota, Nyenka met a Holy Cross alum on a Sunday league team and connected him to Coach Gallo. Once Nyenka met Gallo on a recruiting trip in November, he knew where he wanted to play.

“When you talk to other coaches, you can feel the difference when it is just about soccer and when it’s about the person,” Nyenka said. “When I talked to Coach, it was more about him seeing me as his son.”

Starting for the entirety of his career in high school was a trend that Nyenka brought with him to Holy Cross. In the past two seasons, he has started in 23 games of a possible 23. In that time, Nyenka has recorded 11 goals (the 10 he scored in the year prior led the team) and 8 assists. 

Though Nyenka is a consistent starter, that is not what matters most.

“If I’m starting, I’m helping the team, if I’m not starting then the person trained better than me that weekend, so that person is the better person for the team,” he said. “I know me playing is going to help the team win so I work hard to be in the starting lineup.”

Despite the team starting 2-2, Nyenka feels that the team is poised to perform better in conference play (where they are 1-1-1) mainly because the team is connected, like a family.

“We are more connected, because of Coach Omar, and our captains me and [senior Kamoy Creary]. 

This season’s emphasis has been off-the-field bonding, which was not as strong in years prior, according to Nyenka.

“Get to know the person first before soccer so you guys are able to bond,” he said. “When you are on the field, you play harder you work harder for that person, because now that person is like a brother to you.”

Nyenka, a business major, stated he has ambitious plans after graduating from Holy Cross.

“I really want to open a business back in Liberia,” he said. “I’m thinking more like on the sports side as well, creating a school for kids to come to school and play sports, but focus on academics as well. The hope of that is to bring kids over to the United States to play in college so they can earn a college degree.”

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Saints women’s soccer falls to Judson

On Sept. 14, the Holy Cross women’s soccer team played their second home conference game of the season, facing off against the Judson Eagles. 

Judson wasted no time, scoring quickly in the ninth minute of action. The goal came off a rebound, and freshman goalkeeper Taylor Primack was able to block the initial shot. However, the ball lingered just outside the six-yard box where Judson’s Alex Wawrzyniak was able to chip it in. 

Almost nine minutes later, Judson scored again. This time, Wawrzyniak placed an exceptionally thorough ball to teammate Alondra Blanco, setting her up for a 1-1 with Primack. Left with no other option, Primack attempted to challenge for the ball, but Blanco was able to chip the shot up and in. 

Holy Cross replied before the half, with senior midfielder Lauren Cernak scoring on a corner kick, making it a 1-2 game. Cernak was not entirely done, however. In minute 62, Cernak was able to field a long airborn pass from Abby Craig. Cernak then drove hard to the goal, beating the keeper and launching the ball into the empty net.

With the score tied 2-2, both teams began to get increasingly physical, leading to an altercation in minute 66. It resulted in a caution for junior midfielder Kassidi Puthoff and an ejection for Judson’s Wawrzyniak (Violent Conduct One). After receiving the red card, Wawrzyniak walked off the pitch and into the Holy Cross forest, where she watched the rest of the match.

The ejection gave Holy Cross an advantage for the rest of the match. The game remained even until 80:58, when Kelly Leon had an exceptional drop pass to Natalia Ruiz, freeing her up to score what would ultimately be the gaming-winning goal for Judson. 

The game remained a physical, competitive match with Holy Cross unable to take advantage of being a man up on Judson. The Saints ultimately fell 2-3.

Head coach Omar Gallo took longer than usual to address the players after the loss, talking incredibly soft. The message? Stay positive. 

“Anytime you are in these situations, you have got to find a positive out of that negative situation,” Gallo said. “Being down two goals and battling back shows that we can deal with adversity, and that’s something we have got to continue to focus on.”

The loss sends Holy Cross to an overall record of 1-2-4, with a 0-2 record in conference play. Currently, the Saints are tied for last place with five other teams, including Governors State and IUSB. Though two hard-fought games have resulted in 0 points, Gallo is not disappointed by the results.

“We know that Stritch and Judson are going to be two of the top teams in the conference, and we’re there,” Gallo said. “Both games were lost by one goal, but we are not discouraged by these results. We are in these games, we just got to play to the final whistle.”

There is absolutely a sense of urgency, especially with the Saints’ next game against Governors State — an opponent they are tied in the standings with. 

“Going into Governors State, yeah, there definitely is some urgency,” Gallo said. “We have got to get three points on the board on Saturday.”

The game against Governors State might be just what the doctor ordered for the Saints. Historically, Holy Cross has dominated the Jaguars. The last time the two teams met, Holy Cross won 5-0.

The two teams will meet Saturday, Sept. 17 in University Park, Illinois. The match kicks off at 6:00 p.m.

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HCC men’s soccer drops to Stritch; women’s finish out-of-conference undefeated

The Holy Cross College men’s soccer team lost to Lourdes University 0-1 Wednesday, finishing its out-of-conference play 2-2. The team then turned its attention to Cardinal Stritch University on Saturday. 

Stritch earned the first goal of the match in the 22nd minute. The Saints were able to match it in the second half courtesy at 72’ of an Axel Valenzuela goal assisted by Marcos Hernandez. The tie was short-lived, however, as Stritch was able to score just four minutes later. The goal would prove to be the game winner, with Stritch winning the match 2-0.

Despite Holy Cross outshooting Stritch 13-10, the Wolves were simply able to put more shots on net, leading the Saints by a margin of 6-3. Claudio Fuentealbe was able to keep the game close by making four saves during his 90 minutes in net.

Historically, the men’s team has struggled against the Wolves, with a record of 3-14, and the Saints have now lost the last five of the team’s matchups. With the loss, the Saints fall to 2-3 and 0-1 in conference play.

The men’s team will have a few days rest before turning its attention to the next game against conference foe Judson University Sept. 13 at Saints Field. The Eagles are 0-3-2, with a 0-0-1 conference record.

On the other hand, while the Holy Cross College women’s soccer team would have liked a better start to their season than 1-0-4, there was one particular silver lining. By drawing 1-1 against Lourdes Sept. 7, the Saints finished non-conference play undefeated.

With a historical achievement out of the way, the Saints now turned their attention towards conference play, with an opening matchup against the Cardinal Stritch Wolves. 

Coming into the match, the Stritch Women’s team was 2-2, starting off the season with a 0-6 loss to Scad-Savannah and 0-2 to Morningside College before defeating Mount Vernon and University of Rio Grande (Ohio) a combined 8-1. 

Stritch earned the first goal in the 27th minute off a penalty kick. The next goal of the game came in the 75th minute, giving Stritch a commanding 2-0 lead. The Saints were ultimately able to cut the lead to 2-1, thanks to an Abby Craig goal (unassisted), but fell short of mounting a comeback. 

Taylor Primack was an absolute star in net for the Saints. She got the start, and played all 90 minutes, racking up a whopping 10 saves on the 12 shots she faced. 

Primack absolutely kept the Saints in the game Saturday; Holy Cross was out shot 11-1 in the first half alone. By the time the game had finished, Stritch had shot the ball 25 times to Holy Cross’s 6. Stritch was fairly accurate, putting 12 of their 25 on net. Holy Cross only put one on net, but they made it count.

Much like the men’s team, the women’s team has struggled against Stritch, with a record of 0-13-1, with a twelve-game losing streak that spanned from 2009-2021, before the Saints were able to snag a tie. The Saints now fall to 0-14-1 against Stritch, and 1-1-4 on the season (0-1 in conference). The Saints next conference match will also be against the Judson Eagles on Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. The Eagles are 2-2, with a conference record of 1-0.

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