Coach: Mark Gianfrancesco
Alex Hanna Sr., M
Jordyn Cikesh Sr., D
Ronnie Resek Sr., GK
Kristen Driscoll Sr., F
Rachel Greco Sr., M
Meaghan Reinecke Sr., M
Jordyn Kuhn Sr., M
Molly Rossell Sr., D
Jessica Milanese Sr., F
Shelby Stone Jr., F
Grace Andrews Jr., F
Anna Zeyen Jr., M
Nikki Seiton Jr., GK
Lindsay Spears Jr., D
Jenny Welday Jr., F
Brittany Wahlen So., M
Paige Renfus Fr., M
Tori Renfus Fr., M
Aly Grimm Fr., D
Kayla Stolfa Fr., D
Alexis Bryl Fr., M
Karina Rosales Fr., F

Milanese shows how far hard work can get you
By Darryl Mellema


Players hear so often about how hard work and perseverance pay off in athletics, or in just about any endeavor in their lives that those traits must seem almost like a cliché. Hard work? Sure. Perseverance? Maybe.

But what does that mean? So many athletes with so much talent seem to easily work their way through so many programs. Surely there must be athletes who have had to fight their way to earn the success they achieve.

Then along comes someone like Jessica Milanese to remind you that it’s not just words and hard work and perseverance really do matter, and sometimes success really does come when you keep working and working and then work some more. In fact, the first words from Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco to wear Milanese are related to her work ethic.

“She just works so hard,” he said.

Knowing that there’s a blue collar beneath her red or white jersey made it interesting to keep watch of Milanese during Tuesday’s contest with Streamwood, the final home match of the season for the Bulldogs. As the soccer phrase goes, Milanese “worked her socks off” – and scored three goals in a 6-2 Batavia victory.

“It’s a great way to end our last home game,” Milanese said.

Gianfrancesco knows how important work ethic is to Milanese’s success, and he holds it up as something the other players on the team can aspire to.

“I said when she was sitting on the bench that if we had people who worked half as hard as you, they’d get the goals that you do,” Gianfrancesco said. “I told her that a lot of the goals she gets aren’t the prettiest goals. But she just outworks everybody.”

But it’s not always been roses for Milanese, who has had to work hard just to earn a spot on the roster – and after one season of play, even hard work wasn’t enough.

“I started out on the freshman team and then my sophomore year, I didn’t make the JV team, so I wasn’t playing for our school,” Milanese said. “So I decided to go play for a club team and keep working hard because I love soccer and come back and hopefully play for our school.”

This is the turning point, the moment at which many would choose to give up the sports entirely or to stay playing club soccer and to not try to re-enter the prep scene. Neither of those were pathways Milanese considered.

A return to tryouts earned Milanese a spot on the 2011 Bulldogs roster, though she played sparingly. She again made the team this year, but Gianfrancesco is honest about what he figured her prospects were for playing time. He also loves to talk about what he saw when she got playing time.

“When I first looked at the team, she was something like my 21st or 22nd one out there,” Gianfrancesco said. “But once I got her out there and put her up top, she is so tenacious. She is physical. She wins balls in the air.”

By midseason, Milanese was ready for a breakout sequence of matches, and it happened during the team’s trip to Moline, where she scored five goals. Through Tuesday’s game with Streamwood, she had 15 and was the team’s leading scorer. When you dig beneath the surface a bit, you find that she has a true goalscorer’s mentality.

“I just started pushing forward even more in practice,” Milanese said. “I wanted to prove I could do some more in the games. Every chance I get, I want to score and lead our team to some wins.”
Milanese has played much of this season in a grouping with junior Anna Zeyen on one flank and freshman Tori Renfus on the other wing.

“The chemistry is there,” Gianfrancesco said. “I put her on this line, to use a hockey term, and the chemistry started building. They began to perform better than the group I had with Karina (Rosales), Paige (Renfus) and Grace (Andrews), so they were starting then. And then it became a competition.”

In high school soccer, where teams can substitute as freely as they which, the grouping of two sets of three forwards allowed, and it has paid dividends for the Bulldogs.

“When I can put six girls out there, one after the other, and they go at it like that it, it’s hard for a team to contain,” Gianfrancesco said.

The pathway toward this season’s success has included the same ingredients throughout Milanese’s high school career.

“I just continued to work hard,” she said. “I wanted to prove myself and that I deserved a spot and that I can help the team win some games.”

“The team” is something Milanese says a lot. Soccer is not an individual sport, so in desiring a roster spot, she was seeking a place within the 11-player unit on the field and the 20-plus girl team unit. This powered her as much as anything in her quest to return to the program and to be a varsity player and still fuels her as a solid varsity contributor.

“We have such a great program here and I love all off the girls – I am friends with all of them,” Milanese said. “I knew we were always a decent team. It’s just something I wanted to be a part of and I was going to do whatever I could to be a part of it.”

Having made the varsity roster and been a part of the team, Milanese got to participate in the Senior Night ceremonies on Tuesday with the others who are leaving the program. As her time as a Bulldogs soccer player nears an end, she is thinking of those who will follow her.

“It’s kind of sad, knowing that this is the last time I’ll play on this field that’s been my home for the last two years,” Milanese said. “I’m going to miss all of the underclassmen. This team, especially, is a really special group of girls that I am going to miss next year.”

College beckons for Milanese, and she is headed to the University of Illinois, where she will not play soccer. Unlike high school, she knows that this is the case and is reconciled with the reality that whenever Batavia’s run in this year’s IHSA tournament ends, so does her career.

“I understand that competitively, I’m going to be done,” Milanese said. “I am sure I’m going to be playing outside with my friends or I will come back here and play with these girls on weekends or something when I’m home from college.”

It is easy to see from two years’ distance the benefits Milanese received by staying true to her desire to try as a junior to make the Batavia varsity team. But she can take herself back to that crossroads and affirm that she would make the same decision again – and she has some advice for anyone who is at a similar fork in their career pathway.

“I learned a lot about myself about coming back and continuing to play with our school,” Milanese said. “Some people might give up, but you should never give up. If you work hard enough and if you set your mind to it, you can reach any goal. I’m proof of it. A lot of people would think, ‘oh, you didn’t make it your sophomore year. That stinks. You’re done. But you can keep going and can always push forward and end up on top – if you really want to get there. I did that and everyone can do it, if you set our mind to it.”

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