NAPERVILLE – Naperville Central co-captain Taylor Walk made an impressively quick return to the lineup Thursday.
The senior defender was back on the field just nine days after suffering a separated shoulder against Neuqua Valley.
After the game, Walk felt pain, but it had nothing to do with her recovering injury. She and her teammates were dealing with the sting of their first loss of the season, and one that may have ended their hopes for a Naperville Invitational championship.
York senior forward Finley Ewald’s free kick goal in the 47th minute was enough for the Dukes to prevail 1-0 in a battle of unbeatens at Memorial Stadium on the opening night of the 24-team event.
Naperville Central coach Troy Adams addressed a subdued postgame huddle, and Walk took one thing in particular to heart.
“He made a good comment,” Walk said. “He said this is like a boxer getting punched in the face, and I think that’s very accurate, because we haven’t had a game as tough as this.
“The Neuqua game was pretty tough but this was definitely tougher. It was more about the want and the effort, which I don’t think was there for us tonight.
“It was more important to them than it was to us. I just think this is a hit job, and we’re going to come back stronger from it.”
The Dukes (8-0-1), who sit second on the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 honorable mention list, certainly played strong. The matched featured precious few scoring chances but plenty of 50-50 balls, and the Dukes won more of them.
“They came out stronger and faster,” Naperville Central defender Chloe Mowry said. “They won more balls and were kind of more ready for it.
“We need to come out stronger Saturday and have the mentality to get locked in and be mentally there.”
The Redhawks (5-1-1) had home-field advantage and the better pedigree, but that didn’t faze the Dukes. Neither did the weather, which forced two long lightning delays and turned the match into a 3 ½-hour marathon.
“Mentally we were not locked in,” Walk said. “With all the storms, it just wasn’t there.
“But I think we’re going to come back stronger. We’ll learn from this for sure.
“I’m glad that we had it pretty early in the season, because we still have our top teams to play ahead of us.”
The Redhawks may be glad to have this game behind them, but if it turns out to be their worst effort of the season, they’ll be in good shape.
Naperville Central’s defense was solid, allowing no dangerous scoring chances in the run of play. York’s only goal came off a set piece, when freshman midfielder Tatum Mailander was taken down at the edge of the top of the box. Ewald then stepped up and rolled a sharp shot inside the left post with 33:13 left in the second half.
Other than that, Naperville Central goalkeepers Emma Dram and Erin Hackett were required to make only one routine save apiece.
But the Redhawks didn’t put much pressure on the Dukes, either. Their best scoring chance came on a similar play when Northwestern-bound star Megan Norkett was dumped at the edge of the box.
Norkett’s 18-yard drive from the top of the box just outside the right post barely missed the left post with 7:00 to go.
The only other Redhawk to come close to sniffing a goal was sophomore forward Bella Brozek, who had two chances in the first half.
The first was a 27-yard shot that sailed high with 33 minutes remaining. The second came off a nice buildup when Walk won a ball in the midfield and passed ahead to sophomore Emma Russell, who found Brozek streaking down the right wing.
Brozek took the ball into the corner and lofted a shot from a tough angle, but the ball landed on top of the net at the 11:15 mark.
“York just beat us,” Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. “They were more physical than us.
“They worked harder than we did. They had a better work-rate than we did. They were really on top of it.”
The Dukes certainly were all over Norkett, blanketing Central’s leading scorer with defenders and knocking her down repeatedly. Many of the hits did not result in fouls, and that physical strategy has become a trademark of defenses trying to stop Norkett.
“I don’t think she’s our only attacking player, but right now everybody thinks she is the only option,” Adams said. “There is something to be said that some other players have to step up.
“They’ve got to prove that ‘I’m dangerous enough that you cannot just collapse on Megan.’ So we’ve got to work through that as a team. Girls have to step up.”
The Redhawks face steep odds of advancing out of group play. They need no.5 Geneva to beat York on Friday night and then must beat the Vikings on Saturday in order to qualify for the quarterfinals.
But those considerations are secondary for Adams in the big picture.
“As much as we want to win our group, it’s still about how can we find things that make us better,” Adams said. “We’re never going to perfect it, but how can you make it better so that every game that you play is a little better, with the idea that luckily, two of our last three games are huge conference games.”
But no matter who the opponent is, the 10th-ranked Redhawks realize that everyone is going to give them their best shot because of their status as an elite program.
“It’s a nice thing that people want to beat us, but we’ve got to work up to that and show them that, no, we want this title,” Mowry said. “We want to beat you.”
GK: Daly Wangler
D: Tess Macgregor
D: Abby DeMichele
D: Ava Hansman
D: Mia Barton
MF: Allison Sheehan
MF: Tatum Mailander
MF: Maureen Buhrfiend
F: Finley Ewald
F: Michaela Quinn
F: Hannah Meyers
GK: Emma Dram
D: Chloe Mowry
D: Anna Sadowski
D: Ella Burke
D: Natalie Jordan
M: Madison Hackett
M: Rebecca Ruggiero
M: Lauren Thorne
F: Bella Brozek
F: Alexandra Jonaitis
F: Megan Norkett
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Finley Ewald, sr., F, York; Tatum Mailander, fr., MF, York
York: Finley Ewald (free kick) 33:13 remaining