Throughout a successful freshman season that was highlighted by 13 goals last year, Sandburg’s Gabby Dittmer learned a ton from a senior-heavy team.
Now a sophomore midfielder, Dittmer is trying to pass on some of that knowledge to a young group while she embraces being in a captain’s role at a young age.
“I think I’m just a positive leader,” Dittmer said. “I like to always bring others up. It makes me feel good about myself if I can help others develop as a player, too.
“The point of this isn’t to make anyone feel down about themselves. I want everyone to get better. Helping them get better and progress individually is something I love to do.”
Dittmer is helping the Eagles make major progress after a tough start to the season. She took over the game Monday, recording a hat trick to lift Sandburg to a 3-2 win over Marist.
Marissa Manning had an assist and Claire Hildebrand made three saves for the Eagles (1-4), who opened the season losing all four games against a loaded tournament field at Wheaton North.
Illinois Wesleyan recruit Alexis Shackelford and Hanna McNeela scored goals Monday for host Marist (1-3).
Sandburg started seven players who are either freshmen or sophomores. Dittmer knows there is a lot of weight on her shoulders.
“It’s obviously a really big step up, but I’m ready to take it as a sophomore,” Dittmer said. “I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to lead them.
“It’s obviously different from last year, but finding out how to lead this group of players, they’re amazing and I’m grateful for it.”
Sandburg did not score in its first four games, so when Dittmer corralled Manning’s long free kick and ripped a perfectly placed shot into the top right corner to actually give the Eagles a 1-0 lead, it was quite a relief.
“It was exciting,” Dittmer said. “It was very good to get that game going and get the season going.
“That tournament was obviously tough on us, but we didn’t give up, we didn’t hate on each other. We’re very positive. I think this brought everybody up and got us ready for the season.”
Marist quickly responded after Dittmer’s goal as Shackelford created a 1-1 tie just 29 seconds later and McNeela gave the RedHawks a 2-1 lead in the 29th minute.
But Dittmer dominated the second half, scoring two more times and producing the game-winning goal with 13:48 to go.
“When you have someone like Gabby, who even as a sophomore can put three goals in, that helps a ton,” Sandburg coach Tom Kubowicz said. “It doesn’t matter where she has it. If she’s around the box, she’s a danger to score a goal.”
Marist certainly learned that lesson.
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“They just outplayed us in the second half,” Marist coach Chris Roe said. “They beat us to the ball. We played well in the first half. They picked it up a notch, and we didn’t match it.
“We played pretty bad defense against (Dittmer). She was good. She made the plays she had to. She made three nice ones, and that was the difference.”
Dittmer is also happy to have her longtime friend, Manning, as a teammate again.
“It’s always so good to have her by my side,” Dittmer said. “I started playing with her when I was 8. We have great chemistry.”
Manning, who is also a captain and is playing center back on defense as a freshman, confirmed that Dittmer’s leadership is vital.
“I learn from her because she gives really positive energy,” Manning said. “She’s a really good player. She just keeps the energy up and makes us strive to do more and be confident in ourselves.”
Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.