EVANSTON — Harsh memories and cruel lessons animate desire and incentive in a direct, almost visceral way.
For good and bad, an elite tournament like the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic is a difficult reckoning and measuring action.
The tournament allows for little release; there is no escape. Everything gets magnified.
Evanston could not run from the memories of the home-field thrashing Naperville North administered against them last year.
The Huskies blitzed Evanston with four first half goals in the 4-0 victory en route to the group title.
“This is the team that beat us last year” said Evanston keeper and Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater Ariel Kite. “We knew this was going to be a tough game, and we came out really wanting to win. We have a new team than last year, and they also do. We came out knowing it was going to be physical.”
The disclosure goes both ways.
“In this tournament, good teams are going to expose you when you’re not dialed in,” Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said.
“We have a really young group this year, and when you play a team as talented as Evanston, they are going to put it on you.”
The Wildkits, ranked ninth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, blitzed no. 17 Naperville North with a three-goal explosion in the first half, then used the brilliant play of Kite to offset a furious Huskies rally in their 3-2 victory in opening round of Group B play Saturday.
After going down early on a brilliant goal by the scintillating Huskies freshman Claire DeCook, Evanston (5-0-1) struck back with a skilled and devastating forward attack that resulted in three goals during a sublime 16-minute stretch.
Taking advantage of Naperville North’s youth and injury issues, Evanston unleashed a sharp and persuasive attack.
Evanston has elite college recruits at the top of its attack in Baylor commit Adriana Merriam and Loyola signee and All-Stater Jocelyn Leigh at the top of the attack.
“They have some of the best attacking players that we are going to play all season,” Goletz said.
“Hats off to them. They are going to beat a lot of teams.”
The star Evanston players like Leigh, Merriam and Kite came to play.
So did role players like senior forward Lily Shure.
She helped turn the momentum with some fantastic play during the middle stretch of the first half.
In the 15th minute, gifted freshman Bridget Durkin was loose on the right wing and blasted a ball from 16 yards that smashed off the crossbar.
A deflection off Naperville North keeper Olivia Ochsner created a corner opportunity.
Evanston went to work.
Off the Merriam corner, defender Jordin Kadiri played a header into the box that Shure finished with a terrific volley from about eight yards.
“We have been going down in the first half this season, so we have gotten used to picking it back up and getting into a rhythm,” Shure said.
“Once that first goal comes, I think we usually score a few more.”
Evanston seized control with two goals during a convincing rush. With Merriam controlling the middle and Leigh creating havoc at the top, Evanston continued its propulsive attack.
In the 28th minute, Leigh caught a through-ball from Merriam on the left wing and blasted a ball from 14 yards.
Shure knocked in the rebound for the Evanston 2-1 lead.
“We talked a lot about finishing our opportunities in this game,” said Shure, who earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor.
“I think we’re actually pretty clinical and put a lot of chances away, and that is what we have been working on.”
Evanston expanded the lead moments later off a fantastic sequence with Leigh and Durkin.
Leigh again was the driver of the scoring play, using her speed to break free in space and slot a ball on the right wing that Durkin finished from three yards in the 30th minute.
Durkin has been a terrific addition to the attack. She is crafty with the ball, shows good quickness and the ability to separate off movement or handling the ball.
“At the beginning of the year, I was terrified coming in here, and just playing with so many good girls like this, especially on the top line,” Durkin said.
“They are really welcoming and open. They just really help me feel comfortable. This was my first goal. I’ve had a lot of minutes, and it felt like I haven’t been doing too much. This game was good for me.”
Youth is not an impediment to success in the game.
Claire DeCook is a clear demonstration.
The freshman forward continues to astonish for Naperville North.
“She is so fast, and so good,” Kite said.
The younger sister of senior midfielder Cameron, Claire DeCook has emerged as a generational talent.
She is already the Huskies’ best offensive player.
Her goal in the eighth minute was a sight to behold, underscoring her remarkable technical and athletic gifts.
She stole the ball in the Huskies’ end and drove about 35 yards down the right edge and smashed home a howitzer ball off movement from 19 yards away.
“I definitely have to work on getting as many goals as possible in the shortest amount of time because once we left our foot off the pedal after the first goal, that was where we struggled,” DeCook said.
Naperville North (2-3-1) was down three starters, including Cameron DeCook, who is just one of the two returning starters from the sectional finalist last year that graduated five all-state players.
The other returning starter, Maggie Fitzgerald, moved from the middle to the back to offset the absence of Addison Stitzman.
Forward Annie Chang has also emerged as a crucial secondary scorer for the Huskies.
She had three goals in a victory over South Elgin.
Midfielder Jacey Sturek is another gifted talent. She nearly bent in a corner kick for a goal in the first half, having it ricochet off the bar.
Naperville North was playing just its second game since March 22.
Coming off its break, the Huskies saw their scheduled Tuesday DuPage Valley Conference game with Neuqua Valley postponed by weather.
Naperville North played one of its best games of the young season in a 1-1 tie with no. 3 Plainfield North on Thursday.
The early DeCook goal suggested a bright start for the Huskies.
“We’ve got some kids out right now, and that is a huge piece of the puzzle, but I thought the kids who played really battled,” Goletz said.
“We gave them a little too much space. I thought we gave up chances but did our best. These are good lessons for our kids. I challenged them in the second half, and I thought we tightened some things up.”
As another freshman standout for the Huskies, keeper Ochsner showed remarkable poise and command of the box.
She made a fantastic save off what appeared to be a certain Leigh goal in the opening moments of the second half.
She finished with nine saves.
“I thought we were the better team in the last 25 minutes of the second half,” Goletz said.
“I thought we were way better in the middle of the field, holding the ball and connecting to our forwards.”
The final minutes showed extraordinary play from both sides.
DeCook, who had a shot just push wide at the start of the second half, used her speed to attack the outside.
In the 74th minute, she broke free down the right sideline and delivered a beautiful cross to Chang, who got the twine touch from two yards to close the margin.
“I feel like after halftime we all got going again, and the defense really covered the offense to give us the best opportunity to score more goals and get us motivated again,” Chang said.
“This team has a lot of potential to keep going.”
The DeCook and Chang connection created another thrilling moment in the 77th minute.
Working from a nearly identical angle DeCook got the right edge and crossed the ball into Chang.
Her shot just deflected.
That preceded a pulse-pounding final minute when Kite preserved the Evanston victory.
Chang got free for a breakaway, losing her defender and getting in tight against Kite.
Kite broke off her line about seven yards and made the game-saving, diving stop with 53 seconds remaining.
“I was pretty focused in that situation, and I just tried to close the angle,” Kite said.
“She took kind of a wide touch, and I was able to come up for it.”
Kite had 16 shutouts for last year’s state finals team. She is a rock of the back.
“I think we are still getting used to each other,” she said. “I think the great thing about this team is that our forwards are the same as last year.
“We might have a new backline, but every day they go up against Jocelyn, Bridget, Sydney Ross, so I think that helps us a lot.”
Naperville North had one final chance. The set piece has been the hallmark of the Huskies program.
Defender Reagan O’Malley is the new free kick specialist.
In the closing seconds, she played a ball into that box that eventually found Chang just feet from the goal.
“It took a weird bounce, and I just made a bad miss on the ball, and it got deflected,” Chang said.
Evanston cleared the ball as time expired.
The tournament schedule leaves no time for teams to feel sorry for themselves.
Naperville North hosts No. 16 Libertyville on Monday, and the Wildkits host St. Francis.
“Today was a setback, but I think we are going to do well in the future,” DeCook said.
GK: Ariel Kite
D: Molly Riley
D: Jordin Kadiri
D: Anna Bergmann
D: Madeline Ball
MF: Madeline Varela
MF: Adriana Merriam
MF: Mia Darer
MF: Shayna Da Silva
F: Lily Shure
F: Jocelyn Leigh
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Lily Shure, sr., F, Evanston
NN: Claire DeCook (unassisted), 8th minute
Evanston: Lily Shure (Jordan Kadiri), 15th minute
Evanston: Shure (Jocelyn Leigh), 28th minute
Evanston: Bridget Durkin (Leigh), 30th minute
NN: Annie Chang (DeCook), 74th minute