By Chris Walker
GENEVA -- Narrow misses early can come back to haunt you as well as inspire you.
Geneva was particularly strong in the midfield, which led to scoring chances, including three they finished in a two-goal win over Neuqua Valley on Thursday at Burgess Field.
“I think this game showed really how dangerous we can be in the midfield, especially when we’re all working together and really connecting and playing really quick and making our runs,” Geneva senior Rilee Hasegawa said. “I’m really excited about this season.”
Geneva coach Megan Owens called it “a very solid showing.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” she said. “We had a goal called back, and we had a couple near misses. We were just solid throughout. And the intensity we played with was impressive.
“I think it’s gearing up to be a great season if we can play the way we played tonight and keep that up and build from that.”
Geneva (2-0-0), ranked no. 25 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, got on the board with 9:49 left in the first half. Morgan Rudowicz rifled a shot on goal, and senior Julianna Drew followed it in.
Hasegawa ignited the scoring sequence by tapping a free kick to set up Rudowicz’s booming left foot.
“I think that was our breaking point and where we were able to get some momentum,” Drew said. “I think after that goal our movement started picking up. We started to create; we started
to see opportunities. It gave us a lot more energy the rest of the game.”
Neuqua Valley (0-1-0), ranked no. 24, kept within 1-0 into halftime thanks to a great diving save from goalkeeper Zoe Fabian on a shot from Evyn Schokora. The near goal/great save response depended on an individual's perspective. It was a victory for both players.
It kept the Wildcats within striking distance and was a nice moment in Schokora’s impressive and emotional return. The junior, who missed all of last season with an injury, was named Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match for her performance and dogged determination to return to the pitch.
“It’s been tough to be out, but I’m just happy to be back here,” she said. “It’s a great feeling to be back here on the field with my team. There’s nothing like this.”
She knew the visitors would come to play.
“We came into this game knowing Neuqua Valley would be tough,” she said. “We really showed up tonight.”
Geneva extended its lead to 2-0 thanks to Caroline Madden’s big play. The junior gained possession and blasted in a 20-yard shot with a little more than 30 minutes remaining.
“I just saw the ball pop out and just knew there weren’t defenders in front,” she said. “I just hit it, and it went back post. It definitely helped build the energy. We had been talking about mentality and how we couldn’t let up at all.”
Rudowicz made it 3-0 with 23:45 left. She showed an ability to run down the ball without losing her composure, remaining dead focused on the task before her and booting in a shot inside the far
post from 18 yards.
Neuqua Valley sophomore Selma Larbi showed pure courage to break the shutout. She kept fighting to gain possession of a ball sent in from junior Brianna Clasen. She brushed off a collision with the post and put her team on the scoreboard with 5:29 left.
“I saw Bri (Clasen) driving and know she had a good shot. I made sure I was onsides and followed the goal,” Larbi said. “(The goalkeeper) didn’t catch it, and I kind ran into the post. It
was all right. It worked out. I’m OK.”
Larba liked how her team kept fighting.
“I think we realized in the second half that we had nothing to lose,” she said. “We knew that we had started well and then kind of slacked off at the end of the first half and then picked it up
“We gave it our all and then we started getting more opportunities. We started winning the balls and making passes and not just kicking it.”
It was a lesson learned going forward.
“Something we can work on after this game is just connecting passes, finding through-balls and making runs, Larba said. “We have to press, press press and keep compressed.”
Wildcats senior Anna Yuccas said her team needs to work toward consistent play.
“We got our mojo going by starting strong and then we lost our fire a little bit. We picked it up in the second half,” Yuccas said. “We really started getting 50/50 balls. When we couldn’t get the first ball we were getting the second ball or whatever we can to swing the ball and play to feet. A lot of time we were playing in the air in the first half. We just need to figure out how to get our mojo and play as a team.”
What a difference a year makes for the Wildcats. Yuccas is one of just five seniors.
“We definitely have a mix of all the classes and there’s five seniors this year which is quite the difference from what we had last year,” she said. “We lost 11 seniors, I think. We have a younger group this year.”
Geneva started four seniors and seven juniors. With a couple freshmen and a sophomore peppered in, it’s a group that’s showing good signs that it’s going to be a fun team to watch on the attack.
“I’m really excited about our potential,” Hasegawa said. “Today we really showed we have a lot of talent up-top and in the middle. I’m excited for this season, especially coming back from an injury.”
Health always is a concern with athletes, so seeing players return to the sport they love is a hidden victory.
“I had been out since the first day of tryouts last year,” Schokora said. “I couldn’t wait to be back. I had been waiting a long time for this.”
GK: Zoe Fabian
D: Mollie McBrayer
D: Lauren Milani
D: Katie Wohlfeil
MF: Grace Petrina
MF: Anna Yuccas
MF: Brianna Clasen
MF: Chloe Orlow
MF: Allessandro Russo
F: Safa Jeffery
F: Selma Larbi
GK: Jordan Forbes
D: Cami Bishop
D: Isabella Rawls
D: Madison Rees
D: Leyna Yonehara
MF: Rilee Hasegawa
MF: Julianna Drew
MF: Evyn Schokora
MF: Caroline Madden
F: Olivia Rawls
F: Morgan Rudowicz
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Evyn Schokora, jr., MF, Geneva
Geneva: Julianna Drew (Morgan Rudowicz), 31st minute
Geneva: Caroline Madden (unassisted), 50th minute
Geneva: Rudoowicz (Isabella Rawls), 57th minute
Neuqua Valley: Selma Larbi (Briana Clasen), 75th minute