The start of any new girls season achieves an elemental and symbolic consequence.
The traditional opener of Naperville North and Barrington functions on multiple and overlapping levels.
It is the clearing of the decks, a fantastic point of entry to a new start, and a way to acknowledge the past and relish what stands in the immediate future.
The song remains the same, but always with permutations and new possibilities.
The programs have combined for five state championships since 2012.
In 2018, the teams played three times, with Barrington capturing the rubber match in the state semifinal en route to its second-consecutive state championship.
In 2019, Barrington won the season-opener in convincing fashion. Naperville North found its stride and purpose deeper into the season, and won the game that truly mattered, a penalty shootout in the state championship game.
Their fortunes are almost always interlinked.
“Nobody is going to be surprised if Barrington is playing on the final day of the season,” Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said.
“Steve’s got a young team, but they’re going to be fine,” Barrington coach Ryan Stengren countered. “I knew they were young, and they’d be organized defensively.
“They were much better offensively than I thought.”
In a high-level and exceptionally well-played game that felt closer to an end-of-the-year affair, the two again showed why they each matter, displaying athleticism, grace, toughness and energy.
The experience of Barrington (1-0-0) pushed them over the top.
Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater and sophomore forward Piper Lucier capitalized on the Huskies’ youth for the early momentum and the no. 2 Fillies rode to the sharp 2-0 victory over the 12th-ranked Huskies on Wednesday night.
The rankings refer to the Chicagoland Soccer’s First 50, its state-wide, preseason poll.
The game marked a reversal of roles.
In the season-opener of 2022, Naperville North had nine returning starters from a supersectional qualifier and posted a 2-0 win, while Barrington introduced new talent to the returning roster of its 2021 fourth place state team. The Fillies needed time to jell.
Naperville North also defeated Barrington in double overtime in the championship game of the Naperville Invitational last season.
The Huskies administered the only regular-season losses to the Fillies.
Lucier made her varsity and high school debut against Naperville North last year.
“I think our seniors and the whole team culture at Barrington helped me have the best experience possible last year,” Lucier said. “Now I think the team this year is trying to help our new freshmen, and everyone new to the team have the same experience.”
Lucier’s doppelganger was Naperville North’s prized freshman forward Claire DeCook.
She is the younger sister of Cameron DeCook, a 2022 Chicagoland Soccer Watch List member and one of two returning starters with senior midfielder Maggie Fitzgerald.
The younger DeCook arrived with an outsized reputation after she played up and contributed to a national championship club team, the Naperville-based Galaxy, last summer.
She was even better than advertised.
Skilled, dangerous and sharp with the ball, Claire DeCook created multiple dangerous opportunities for the Huskies. She was one of four freshmen starters.
“Claire’s a special kid,” Goletz said. “As a freshman, she got her feet wet in the first half, where maybe she wasn’t as aggressive. In the second half, you obviously saw what she could bring to the table.
“She could be one of the best attacking kids to play here.”
Claire DeCook had been waiting to play in a meaningful high school game with her older sister.
“I came into the game knowing it was going to be really tough, and Goletz said it was going to be one of our hardest of the season,” Claire DeCook said.
“I know, just like my club team, I always know the second half is the best for us, and I thought that was true here. Even though we lost, I really think we did great.”
Barrington started six players who started in the state championship game against Metea Valley: forwards Lucier, Sarah Sarnowski and Kate Lubinsky; midfielders Brooke Brown and Kaitlin Taylor; and outside back Ellie Sanchez.
All six played fantastic for the Fillies, underscoring the privileged aura of experience and savvy. The skilled, promising Huskies are still in search of that.
The difference in experience played out in stark terms in the early going. Barrington had the decided early advantage in possession and pressure.
Off a corner on the right edge, Brown played in a beautiful arcing ball that freshman keeper Olivia Ochsner nervously struggled with.
Lucier seized the opportunity and put the ball away for the crucial opening score in the 17th minute.
Brown, a Cornell recruit, earned Chicagoland Soccer All-State honors last season with 16 goals and a team-best 19 assists.
“We’re always trying to win and do our best, but this is a new year, and a new team,” she said. “So, things are naturally going to look a little bit different compared to last year and how we played.
“We’re just trying to give it our all every day.”
Lucier’s ability to get to the edge and create in space accounted for a cumulative pressure the Fillies rode to the victory.
Culture is the defining and shared characteristic of each team.
Naperville North returns just two returning starters from the team that lost to Metea Valley in the sectional final, but the Huskies are accustomed to a high standard.
This year is no different.
“We brought very little experience back from a team that finished 19-3-3,” Goletz said. “I’m very proud of the girls.
“I don’t believe in moral victories. In our program we have enough talent top to bottom at every level that we should be able to compete with the state’s best every year.”
After the early feeling-out action, Naperville North (0-1-0) increasingly found its rhythm and style.
The DeCook sisters were the driving engine, fast and creative with the ball, and finding open lanes to exploit.
“North has always been very strong for soccer on the boys and girls side, and I think that is because of the coaches we have in common,” Cameron DeCook said.
“We focused on the little things, because we were not sure what this team would be like.
“We also know who the big names are, especially after the Chicagoland Soccer poll comes out. I feel like we have always competed well with Barrington. It seemed a bit overwhelming on paper, but on the field, even with all the new girls, we showed that if we work hard, we are going to be really good.”
Claire DeCook created some sharp exchanges with her sister and midfielder Jacey Sturek.
Sturek had a nice look on a ball that she blasted over the top of the net. Late in the first half, working the right edge, Claire DeCook smashed a beautiful ball from about 25 yards that required sophomore Barrington keeper Megan Holland to make a lunging stop.
The Fillies secured their final two-goal advantage with a beautiful sequence at the start of the second half.
Lubinsky worked the left edge and got to the corner. Her service into the box provided a prime opportunity for Kaitlin Taylor.
Taylor finished with authority from about 12 yards in the 46th minute.
“It was a great team effort today, and everyone was working really hard together to get to that ball, and it worked out really well for me,” Taylor said.
“We all play for each other, and my teammates did a great job of pushing me.”
Ever the perfectionist, Stengren liked the result. He quibbled with aspects of the performance and effort.
“We have a long way to go, and our better players need to play better for us,” he said.
“I always do this to myself where I think we are going to look like we are at the end of the year, and this is a brand-new season. There is a lot of area for growth. In terms of battling, I thought we battled pretty well.”
Lucier earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match distinction for her outstanding play.
She surpassed her fantastic performance in the state championship game last spring with more speed, quickness and dynamic play.
“Obviously that (state final) result wasn’t the one we wanted, but that was the best game of any environment I have ever played in,” Lucier said. “That was so much fun, and I think we all bonded over that loss.”
Naperville North is going to be a force to be reckoned with. The only question is how long the maturation process takes.
“I thought we had some really good chances to score goals tonight,” Goletz said. “I did not think it was a 2-0 game. That's a testament to the kids and how much they care about the program and how much they're willing to battle and fight. They will only continue to get better.
“We have got to keep our heads up, because we learned a lot of great lessons. If you can learn lessons and stay in a game with a team that is this good, we know we could put something together when it matters.”
D—Roos Van Roekel
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Piper Lucier, so., F, Barrington
Barrington—Piper Lucier (Brooke Brown), 17th minute
Barrington—Kaitlin Taylor (Sarah Sarnowski), 46th minute