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Girls Soccer: Leah Rizzo steps up to lead Shepard during ‘building’ year

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By Steve Millar
Correspondent

Shepard senior Leah Rizzo has been a two-sport standout since her freshman year, and is a four-year varsity player in both volleyball and soccer.

“Both sports are really different,” Rizzo said. “I get to be more aggressive on the soccer field, go at girls shoulder-to-shoulder and be physical. Volleyball is more finesse and I enjoy that part, too.

“There’s a lot to be said about playing multiple sports. A lot of them are similar and playing one can help you with another. It’s a big advantage, I think.”

After completing her standout volleyball career and being named the South Suburban Red Player of the Year last fall, Rizzo is helping lead the Astros on the pitch as a captain.

“It’s a big role for me,” Rizzo said. “I have a lot of good upperclassmen that really support me and help the team in a big way. Meg (Kempczynski) is kind of my right-hand man. We do a lot of give-and-gos, and that’s where I get a lot of my assists from is getting the ball to Meg.”

Rizzo has scored six goals this season, including both Astros’ tallies April 27 in a 5-2 loss to Tinley Park in a South Suburban crossover.

The defeat capped a stretch of three straight days with games for Shepard (4-12-2, 1-4-2 South Suburban Red), which showed improvement during the week. The Astros beat Chicago Christian 6-3 on April 25 and tied a solid Oak Forest team 2-2 on April 26.

“I’m very proud of our girls for how they played (against Tinley Park),” Shepard coach Susan Liva said. “They did a good job working together and making passes and they were aggressive, which is something we’ve been looking for.

“This is a building year for our program. As the season is going on, we’ve been doing a lot better.”

Liva said Rizzo sets the standard for the rest of the Astros.

“Leah is a captain this year,” Liva said. “She does a good job with her presence on the team. She is aggressive and she leads by example.

“She doesn’t always have to verbally tell people what to do, but they watch her in awe and they want to be her.”

With the Astros trailing 1-0, Rizzo tied it in the 26th minute when she headed in Kempczynski’s corner kick.

“My dad was my coach when I was younger,” Rizzo said. “He and [Liva] always tell me that if you want goals, you have to be in the middle of the box. Meg always gives great balls on corners and crosses, so you just have to want it, go for the ball and go in head-first, be really aggressive.”

Tinley Park responded with three straight goals to take command, but Rizzo scored again with 17:30 left in the game.

Kempczynski again set the table. This time she drew a foul in the box to earn a penalty kick. Rizzo took the penalty kick and ripped a laser into the left side of the net.

“It’s a lot of pressure taking those,” Rizzo said of the penalty kick. “I feel like people look at me to take those and I do it willingly. It’s definitely stressful standing at that spot, but you have to stay calm and just do what you’ve got to do.”

Going forward, Rizzo feels like the Astros will keep improving.

“We have a great team and I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit,” she said. “We do work really hard. There’s a lot of things to improve on, but even from the beginning of the season until now, we’ve stepped up a lot and I think we’re ready for the rest of the season.”

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