BELLEVILLE -- On the nearly four hour luxury bus ride on Friday morning, Naperville Central coach Troy Adams couldn’t imagine seeing 11 total goals scored in that evening’s match against Belleville West.
“These don’t happen very often,” said Adams, the first-year coach on the girls side for Naperville Central after winning the boys Class 3A title last fall. “We had some very good moments in the attack, but you never expect something like this.”
Naperville Central, the no. 16 team in the Chicagoland Soccer First 50 preseason state ranking, thumped Belleville West 7-4 on a cold, windy evening in Southern Illinois. The Redhawks improved to 2-0-0, while the Maroons settled at 1-1-0 on the very young season.
“We’ve got some things to keep working on,” said Adams. “It’s very early in the season, but I liked the way the ball moved, and I liked the way the players worked together. Like I said at halftime, it’s a vast improvement offensively from where we were on Wednesday. The ball was moving quicker, we were finding people earlier; and we’re understanding where to run. All those things that take time are happening in a very quick fashion so that’s good to see.”
Northwestern recruit Megan Norkett took the game over midway through the second half and secured the Redhawks path to victory.
With her side up 3-2, Norkett scored three-straight goals to give the Redhawks a 6-2 lead and some well-earned room to breathe.
“The first half was definitely a close game,” Norkett said of Naperville Central’s 2-1 lead. “I feel like coming out in the second half, after we talked, we knew we were going to have to put some in the back of the net to get back in the game.
“Coach Adams talked to us about getting forward more and getting more shots, and I think that really helped us.”
The duo of Norkett and Rebecca Ruggiero gave Belleville West fits the entire game. Ruggiero, a quick, sure-footed midfielder, plays well above her sophomore status.
“I think we all learn from each other on and off the field,” said Ruggiero. “After the third goal we played better together as a team. We were moving the ball well.”
The Redhawks struck quickly. Ruggiero scored in the first two minutes on a nice cross from Norkett. The midfielder beat defender Shelby Traxler with a pretty move.
Naperville Central's dangerous twosome was busy most of the first half down the left side, and gave Traxler quite the workout. Maroons freshman keeper Lilly Liebmann was busy and off her line several times to make key stops.
The Belleville West offense finally started to click midway through the half when senior captain Carolyne Mathenia got free down the left side and sent a shot that forced Redhawks keeper Erin Hackett to come off her line to make the save.
The Maroons looked like they might tie the game when forward Sophia Munaco tested Hackett, but the keeper came off her line to grab the shot.
Isabella Brozek put Naperville Central up 2-0 late in the half when she slipped a shot under Liebmann.
In the final minutes of the half, Mathenia beat Hackett to the far post on a nicely placed attempt to tighten the match.
“I thought the energy and our whole demeanor changed for us when we scored late in the half,” said Belleville West coach Jason Mathenia. “The energy, the vibe in the locker room was really, really good. We felt good.
Belleville West kept its groove on after the break. Junior midfielder Maddy Faezel came alive trying the short side with a shot that Naperville Central second half keeper Emma Dram smothered. But Faezel came right back on a second-touch effort off a free kick started by Mathenia and tied the game 2-2 in the 50th minute.
Naperville Central regained its footing behind Alexandra Jonaitis and Norkett, and the Redhawks mustered five good scoring chances. The action became explosive: Jonaitis was busy with two terrific crosses that just missed teammates and a shot that beat Liebmann but hit the crossbar.
Norkett came knocking again, but her attempt from the top of the box was punched just wide by Liebmann.
A handball inside the box was the beginning of the end for the Maroons. Ruggiero converted the kick to break the tie at 3-2 in the 55th minute. Then it became Morgan Norkett time. Her hat-trick was completed in the next eight minutes.
“That PK took a little bit of wind out of our sail,” Jason Mathenia said. “After that we had a couple of lapses.”
His daughter concurred.
“I think fatigue kind of set in once they scored on a penalty kick,” said Carolyne Mathenia. “Everyone’s head went down, and we weren’t able to pull together.”
Norkett scored on three-consecutive shots: the first went inside the far post; the second was a rebound finish; and the capper found the upper right corner for a 6-2 lead.
“Megan played well,” Adams said. “She kind of floated between midfield and forward. She has a lot of creative ability, and she’s finding her teammates from the midfield spot and finishing from the forward line.”
Belleville West didn’t fold its tent in the last 15 minutes. Defender Kara Joshu arguably produced the best goal of the game -- a rocket from 25 yards that gave Dram no chance. It cut the deficit to 6-3 in the 67th minute.
Midfielder Addie Gagen made things more interesting after she converted a nice run from her midfield spot to the upper left corner. The score cut the Naperville Central lead to two with 11 minutes left.
But the Redhawks killed any thought of a Belleville West revival when Brozek’s second goal of the night, this one into the lower left corner, arrived in the 72nd minute.
“Norkett is a strong, dangerous player and it was tough to deal with her,” Jason Mathenia said. “She really picked up her game in the second half.”
GK Erin Hackett
D Chloe Mowry
D Taylor Walk
D Anna Sadowski
D Ella Burke
MF Lauren Thorne
MF Daly Dodsworth
MF Rebecca Ruggiero
F Alexandra Jonaitis
F Megan Norkett
F Malia Shen
GK Lilly Liebmann
D Madison Smith
D Kara Joshu
D Ashlyn Wuebbels
D Shelby Traxler
MF Izzy Alvarez
MF Sydney Oliver
MF Addie Gagne
MF Hannah Sternau
MF Carolyne Mathenia
F Sophia Munaco
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Megan Norkett, sr., F, Naperville Central
NC - Ruggiero (UA), 2’
NC - Brozek (UA), 35’
BW - Mathenia (Munaco) 39’
BW - Feazel (Mathenia) 50’
NC - Ruggiero (penalty kick) 55’
NC - Norkett (UA), 58’
NC - Norkett (Ruggiero), 61’
NC- Norkett (UA), 65’
BW - Joshu (UA), 67’
BW - Gagen (Mathenia), 69’
NC - Brozek (Jonaitis), 72’