NAPERVILLE -- Goals from Rebecca Ruggiero and Alexandra Jonaitis secured Naperville Central's place in the quarterfinals of its prestigious invitational at the expense of fifth-ranked Geneva, whose valiant effort fell short Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
After the Redhawks and Vikings finished with four points at the end of Group A play, Naperville Central advanced thanks to its 3-1 head-to-head win. Next up for Troy Adams' Redhawks will be no. 14 St. Charles North (9-2-1) Thursday evening at home. The Vikings (10-3-0) host 12th-rated Benet (10-2-0) on Thursday in the consolation pool.
"The girls knew what we were all playing for ahead of this game, and what we had to do in order to win our (group),” Adams said.
“It was also about getting back out there and playing well as a team collectively. Having the big picture in mind, being the type of team that will be able to compete at a high level at the end of the season to avoid an early exit in the postseason."
"We were all disappointed in our 1-0 loss to York on Thursday," said Naperville Central’sNorthwestern recruit Megan Norkett. “(They) are a good team, but we didn't play as well as we should shave. That loss made this game even more important if we wanted to win our group and advance into the quarterfinals.”
Geneva entered the game with a 4-0 lead in group points after its 3-0 win over York on Friday.
A Geneva win or draw would have closed out the 10th-ranked Redhawks (6-1-1), so the message to Megan Owens' club was just as crystal clear.
"All the girls knew what we needed,” said a proud Owens. “Even though we were missing two starters, which left us a little short on the bench, this team has always come out and given such a tremendous effort with great energy and purpose. I knew the girls would give it 110 percent."
That both sides played 80 minutes of all-action soccer is a tribute to each club, particularly on a day that could easily be described as one which only an evil meteorologist would enjoy.
This dreadful day featured a quick tease of sunshine, followed by rain, blowing snow pellets, more rain, sun, a short return of rain, then snow, all with a nasty north wind to make matters worse. To the credit of both clubs, the conditions did not slow the pace, energy or desire of the players.
"Those tiny little snowballs came out of nowhere, and they hurt when they hit your skin," said Rilee Hasegawa, who shared Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honors along with Redhawks sophomore Isabella Brozek. “It was obviously the same for everyone out there, but it made it difficult to see, let along concentrate for the few minutes it was going on.”
Hasagawa, who was the centerpiece up-top in the Vikings 4-3-3 formation, was electric, engaged and entertaining with and without the ball. The Redhawks backline had to be wary of the Florida Southern-bound senior throughout the match.
"Rilee was fantastic out there for us today, as were so many others who gave so much of themselves," said Owens.
The first quarter hour featured little possession; it was more of a chess match than a soccer game. Each side was allowed little time on the ball but measured the other for openings to expose.
"It wasn't really pretty out there for long stretches," said Norkett. “I felt like when we needed to have a little more purpose.”
"The first half for us was (okay),” said Adams. “The second half much better on both sides of the ball, so it was kind of a Jekyll-and-Hyde game of halves for us overall."
As both backlines proved sturdy and aware of their opponents’ attack, most of the play, strangely enough, was along the far touchline for the first quarter hour. The underwhelming offensive performances were confirmed by just one attempt on frame by Brozek, though it brought Geneva keeper Jordan Forbes into action.
Norkett broke free from a pair of Vikings and moved toward Forbes with speed and what looked like the first big chance of the game. If not for a strong tackle from Lilly Coats, Norkett would have had a go in the 13th minute.
Geneva junior defender Cami Bishop, whom her manager heaped plenty of praise upon, was active and able to join the attack and provide quality service all day long.
At 19 minutes, Bishop set Audrey Stredde free. The ensuing shot forced Redhawks keeper Erin Hackett into action.
Things opened up a bit after this exchange with some nice combination play by the Vikings trio of Evyn Schokara, Hasegawa and Alyssa Houk forcing Ella Burke to clear the area of trouble.
At the other end of the park, Daly Dodsworth blocked a close-range effort by Madison Hackett.
Norkett dispossessed a Geneva player and played quickly to Lauren Thorne, whose 16-yard snap-shot was saved with confidence by Jordan Forbes at 27 minutes, Naperville Central continued on a a strong stretch of play leading up to its opener in the second minute before halftime.
"I think we began to play much better attacking soccer in the last 10-12 minutes before the half," said Brozek, whose ability to accelerate within seconds allowed her to brush past challengers on several occasions.
"You cannot teach speed, and that's something Brozek has,” Adams said. “But we can teach pace, touch, and the technical and tactical aspects of the game. We've seen so much improvement in that part of her game. Today you saw just how dangerous she can be for us this season and in the future."
"(Bella) is so much fun to watch, and she can really makes things happen for us up-top," added Norkett, who unleashed a left-footed attempt from 24 yards at Forbes in the 29th minute.
Not to be overlooked during the Redhawks much improved play in the last half of the first period was the work from Nicole Smith, who delivered quality in her distribution, while holding the ball long enough for her teammates to get deeper into their runs.
Geneva had a go against the run of play. Houk set up Olivia Rawls for the Vikings best look on frame of the half, but Hackett was there for the Redhawks.
Burke headed a Brozek helper over the bar before Brozek created a deep throw for the home side. The toss was collected by Norkett.
With speed and trickery in her zig-zag run toward the near post, Norkett found a way to steer in her low drive through shirts of both colors into the far inside netting in the 38th minute.
"Bella got me the ball, and when you get in that close, you've got to put something on goal. It might get into the back of the net," offered Norkett.
Geneva was a bit disheartened.
"It's always tough giving up a late goal like that, especially with us playing so hard, and with the wind in our faces,” said Cami Bishop. “But we came out really strong after the break."
Geneva put their hosts under pressure just after the referee whistled the start of the second half.
Hasegawa fired an attempt on the outside of the netting, then almost was gifted a goal when a short kick ricocheted off the Vikings star. That alarmed the Redhawks and their faithful.
Next the Vikings missed on a pair of free kicks – Lilly Coats bent the second wide of the back post. With the wind at their back and brimming with confidence, the Vikings began to push numbers in search of the equalizer.
It came in the 48th minute when Olivia Rawls was allowed to tee-up from 24 yards. She unloaded an unstoppable screamer into the opposite corner of the net of keeper Emma Dram, who came on for Hackett after intermission.
The goal was Rawls’ 16th, which leads the team.
"We came out with so much more urgency and energy," said Hasegawa. “That goal by Olivia really gave us the momentum we were looking for, but it ended so quickly.”
Redhawks fans could thank Rebecca Ruggiero for bursting Geneva’s balloon. She alertly followed the play and ball after Jordan Forbes came far off her line to challenge the onrushing Malia Shen. After her brave effort, the ball to spilled free.
Ruggiero took full advantage of an open net and drove in the eventual game winner with a sublime touch.
"That was such a big goal for us, it gave the momentum right back to us," said Brozek.
"We all use the old cliche of 'the next five minutes' for a reason after you or your opponent scores a goal," Adams said with a smile. “But it couldn't have been 30 seconds before we came down and put one in.”
With the lead, it was now important for the home side to earn an aggregate edge, while the Vikings on the other hand just needed to stay away from conceding a third goal during the next half hour.
Audrey Stredde, through Evyn Schokora, Julianna Drew and Hasegawa, had a chance in the 53rd minute, Dram came off her line to dash the hopes of the Vikings.
Moments later, Brozek put Norkett through, and if not for a grab of the shirt and subsequent professional foul, Norkett would have had Forbes all to herself.
The Naperville Central backline of Burke, Chloe Mowry, Anna Sadowski, and Taylor Walk were at their rigid and defiant best as their guests created a trio of corners. A pair of ensuing shots were blocked on their way in.
When it looked as though Geneva could continue to chase a one-goal deficit, up stepped Alexandra Jonaitis. She shed her mark to finish a marvelous helper from Thorne in the 64th minute.
Geneva was unable to pull closer.
"We were missing two starters, and the conditions were terrible, but it's no excuse for today's result," said Hasegawa. “We played hard as a team, but it just wasn't enough today.”
"When it became 1-1, we were all instantly energized," added Bishop. “But to give up their second goal so quickly after Olivia scored took a little something out of us for sure.”
Bishop, with backline mates Julianna Drews, Leyna Yonehara and Isabella Walls fought valiantly in front of Forbes.
"We're in the midst of a real tough part of our schedule,” began Owens. “At the end of 10 days we will have played Plainfield North (a shootout win for the Plainfield Classic title April 15), York, Central today, a conference game with St. Charles East on Tuesday, then two more Naperville Invitational games to finish up next week.
"It's an incredibly difficult stretch for us, but this group has so much character, work-rate and resiliency. I know they will come out next week the same way, even if we're missing a few players with injuries."
Resilient describes Naperville Central as well.
"We put ourselves in a tough spot with that 1-0 loss to York,” said Adams. “The girls knew what they had to do today but then so did Geneva, which made for a real-spirited game today.
"We have a roster mixed with several freshmen and sophomores, but also a bunch of upperclassmen. We're beginning to see things come together for us, which is important, not only because of our upcoming tournament games, but (also) what lies ahead in our conference with Naperville North, then Metea Valley at the end of our schedule."
G- Jordan Forbes
D- Julianna Drews
D- Isabella Walls
D- Leyna Yonehara
D- Cami Bishop
M- Evyn Schokara
M- Lilly Coats
M- Alyssa Houk
F- Audrey Stredde
F- Rilee Hasegawa
F- Olivia Rawls
Naperville Central (4-3-3)
G- Erin Hackett
D- Chloe Mowry
D- Anna Sadowski
D- Ella Burke
D- Taylor Walk
M- Lauren Thorne
M- Nicole Smith
M- Rebecca Ruggiero
F- Isabella Brozek
F- Megan Norkett
F- Malia Shen
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Isabella Brozek, so., F, Naperville Central; Rilee Hasegawa, sr., F, Geneva
Referee: David Sharma
Naperville Central: Norkett (U/A), 38'
Geneva: Rawls (U/A), 48'
Naperville Central: Ruggiero (Shen), 48'
Naperville Central: Jonaitis (Thorne), 64'
Naperville Central: 6
Naperville Central: 4
Naperville Central: 2
Naperville Central: 0
Naperville Central: 6
Naperville Central: 1