NAPERVILLE – Benet goalkeeper Shannon Clark was about five yards off her line when Naperville North forward Cameron DeCook took possession of a loose about 40 yards out on the left wing.
Clark realized what was about to happen but was powerless to stop it.
“I will beat myself up over that one, because I actually play (club) with Cam,” Clark said. “So, I know she’s taking that shot nine times out of 10, and she’s making it nine times out of 10.”
Sure enough, DeCook launched a rocket that sailed over the head of the retreating Clark and into the upper 90 with 38:23 left in the second half of the final Group C match of the Naperville Invitational on Saturday.
The goal capped the scoring and the host Huskies, ranked 15th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, went on to beat no. 12 Benet 2-0 and advance to Thursday’s tournament quarterfinals, where they will host New Trier.
“I should have definitely been more on the line,” Clark said. “I tried to pump up the girls a little bit for that, but I don’t think anyone can really stop her when she decides she’s going to shoot from there.
“She hits her target. She’s a really, really good player, and I give her full credit for that.”
Clark, who made five saves, would have had a better angle if she had stayed back but even so it is unlikely she could have gotten to DeCook’s rocket.
“It was right under the crossbar,” Clark said. “I heard it skim as it went in, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s just the worst.’
“She did a great job. She played a great game.”
Indeed, after missing three weeks with an ankle injury, DeCook is rounding into form. The goal was her fourth of the season, keeping her 10 behind her freshman sister, Claire, who scored in the first half, for the team lead.
Few players can score from as far out as Cameron DeCook did, and most won’t even try. But her long-range sniping is something that every team must account for.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Claire DeCook said. “Cameron is really good at long balls, and I know if she has that opening where it’s on her right foot, especially, that she’ll take it.
“She’ll still kick it on her left, but that’s a really dangerous spot for Cameron.”
Cameron DeCook was humble when asked about her shooting prowess.
“It usually goes over the top,” she said.
“It was like a 50/50 kind of ball, and it popped out. I took a touch inside and then a head up. They were giving me space, because we were still pretty far from goal.”
Trailing 1-0, Benet (10-2-0) wasn’t far from contending for the match, and thus a spot in the quarterfinals. That changed with Cameron DeCook’s goal.
“It obviously hurts when you give up goals early in both halves, especially the second goal, which was a little bit of a backbreaker,” Benet coach Gerard Oconer said. “We started off the half really well.
“All of a sudden, you get that, and now you’re chasing the game. She put it in the perfect spot.”
While the Huskies (7-3-1) are far from perfect, they are in a good spot to take on all comers with both DeCook sisters foraging for goals up-front. It gives their teammates more room to make an impact, too.
“Cam and Claire both score but everybody in the front line – Rachel Noren, Annie Chang – who came in the game, they battled to win balls and hold balls under pressure to generate chances for us,” Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said. “Claire is a special player, and Cam is a special player.
“Now that Cam is back, to have the two of them playing on the field at the same time is a really cool thing to watch.Not only because they are great players, but because they are also fantastic kids who just work so hard.”
Claire DeCook showcased that work ethic from the get-go. She gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead just five minutes into the game when she raced up the left wing, juked a defender and beat Clark, who had no chance to stop her 15-yard shot inside the left post.
While it might not yet be as powerful as her sister’s, Claire DeCook’s shot is something to see. But that’s only the end product. Before the ball leaves her foot, the elusive rookie often leaves behind a trail of frustrated fullbacks and proverbial busted ankles.
“I specialize in different turns,” Claire DeCook said. “I knew they knew that if it ended up on my foot, I would turn to my right, so I rotated to the left and once I got across (the defender’s) body I just focused on the goal and where the goalie was moving.
“And once she moved to one side, I just hit it to the other side.”
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not, and neither is winning matches against the type of opponents Naperville North plays.
Yet despite having only two returning starters, the Huskies won their fifth-straight game while snapping Benet’s six-game winning streak.
“The girls were fantastic today,” Goletz said. “The pressure is on them to play a team like Benet that everybody knows is super talented.
“The talk about our group is that we’re down. We lost so much.
“That’s why I’m so proud of this program is because the kids play so darn hard, and they’re absolutely 100 percent dedicated to each other and to the program. They do the little things so well. They defend well; they battle. They win 50/50 balls. We’ve got some really good kids in the attack, that when the ball gets to them, they can generate chances.”
Benet created a few chances but not enough, mainly because they didn’t have enough sustained possession, especially in the last 30 minutes.
“(The difference) was just in general their physicality in just winning 50/50 balls,” Oconer said. “They were first to everything.
“First half they were very direct. They knew exactly what they wanted to do.”
Despite the loss, Clark said the Redwings know what they have to do.
“I think we played a good game,” Clark said. “I think we brought the energy. We just might not have brought the technique.
“There are a few things that we need to work through, but once we do, we will definitely be a very unstoppable team.”
The Redwings will have two premium Naperville Invitational consolation matches against Lyons on Thursday and Geneva on Friday.
The Huskies, meanwhile, will try to defend their tournament championship. They will have to beat three great teams to do it, starting when New Trier visits at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s amazing in terms of momentum,” Cameron DeCook said of beating Benet. “We’re trying to put together another amazing performance, because we know this tournament is so difficult. We love these games, so we’re excited to still be going in it.
“It was a big personal win for me as well because I’m coming back from my injury. It’s always nice to get back in the swing of things.”
GK: Shannon Clark
D: Nora Hanson
D: Gabby Hedden
D: Sadie Sterbenz
D: Bailey Abbott
M: Rania Fikri
M: Reese MacDonald
M: Rachel Burns
F: Keira Petrucelli
F: Anna Casmere
F: Ivana Vukas
GK: Olivia Ochsner
D: Maggie Fitzgerald
D: Addison Sitzmann
D: Alison Sutton
D: Reagan O’Malley
M: Jacey Sturek
M: Audrey Hartmann
M: Abby Penn
F: Rachel Noren
F: Claire DeCook
F: Cameron DeCook
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Cameron DeCook, sr., F, Naperville North
Naperville North – Claire DeCook 35:00 remaining
Naperville North – Cameron DeCook 38:23 remaining