NAPERVILLE -- Fans entering Naperville Central Stadium on Saturday for a match between Oswego East and St. Charles North, the last Group B contest of the Naperville Invitational, may have experienced a deja vu moment. It was exactly 52 weeks ago that the two teams tangled in a group match of the tournament that resulted in a 3-1 Oswego East victory.
Fortunately, the attendees did not have to deal with all the rain, snow and graupel that pelted many area pitches Saturday. They also did not see history repeat itself.
A determined St. Charles North, ranked 14th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, ratcheted up it defense and capitalized on two Oswego East miscues for a 2-0 win to advance to a Naperville Invitational quarterfinal match at host Naperville Central at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“I thought it was a collective group effort. I thought that we were really motivated to win the 50/50 ball,” said St. Charles North coach Brian Harks. “Oswego East has quite a few talented players and their keeper came up big a number of times.
“Rather than our players getting frustrated, they kept grinding and found a way to find the back of the net.”
Harks hopes the good vibes from the match continue into a rematch with 10th-ranked Naperville Central.
“We played Naperville Central a few weeks ago, and it ended with a 0-0 draw,” he said. “It actually would be a nice opportunity to see how we’ve grown the past couple of weeks.”
Last year’s match with Oswego East was on the coach’s mind.
“We lost to them last year in the tournament, so it was nice to go back against them this year. We knew that they’re a good team, well-coached and well-organized. They’re having a lot of success this year,” Harks said. “At the end of the day it’s about getting matches with really quality opponents, so it was awesome to go against the team like them and walk away with the win.”
No. 11 Oswego East (7-4-1) had the additional challenge of rebounding from a Friday night tournament loss to Waubonsie Valley.
“I’m really proud of our girls for keeping their heads up after losing last night and coming out here and competing as well as they did,” Juan Leal, Oswego East’s coach said. “We moved the ball, but obviously our attack in the final third wasn’t where we wanted it to be.
“We gave up a goal on a set piece and then we got caught off guard. We were able to compete and challenge them, and we made them work for their goals.”
Senior North Stars center back Lauren Balster also remembered her team’s last encounter with the Wolves.
“I think the biggest thing is last year when we played Oswego East in this tournament, and we ended up losing the game, I think they have a lot of similar forwards. So, we expected them to come out strong and battle,” Balster said. “I think that gave us more energy and more enthusiasm to go out there and beat them.
“I think our defense was really locked down. We stopped them. They had zero shots on goal. I think we did a really nice job of shutting down some of their speedy and quality forwards.”
“I thought our backline did a really nice job today staying composed,” he said. “Our center backs, Lauren Balster and Abby Vichich (Wisconsin-Milwaukee commit) really controlled the backline. Outside back Chloe Kirsten and whether it was Abby Sims or Courtney Suhr on the other side there, they did a nice job containing their man.
“At times, they even got into the attack, so that was an added bonus to our offensive abilities.”
Leal applauded the St. Charles North backline.
“Their defense was definitely strong,” he said. “Their two center backs were doing a job good job of clearing out the ball. You got to give them a lot of credit for a good defense.”
Oswego East’s backline, led by Wisconsin-Plattville recruit Veronica Hamilton and Illinois-Springfield commit Emma Rosenthal, made it challenging for the North Stars to finish attacks.
Goalkeeper Samantha McPhee (Tiffin commit) made six saves.
“Oswego East had a really structured backline, they didn’t give you a whole lot to look at, especially when they collapsed back,” Harks said. “They made things challenging, and that’s what you expect from a team of that caliber. Nothing comes easy, but when we had an opportunity, we made the most of it.”
St. Charles North (7-2-1) capitalized on a Bella Najera free kick from 20 yards on the left side line at the 29:00 mark of the first half. The Michigan State recruit’s kick ended with Laney Stark’s 10th goal of the season.
“We’ve got that free kick and Bella likes to send it back post,” Stark said. “I got caught up by a defender, but they followed somebody else. I got it, and I tapped it in.”
Harks felt the goal was a morale booster.
“Sometimes getting that early goal helps loosen things up and the team plays with a little bit more confidence,” he said.
The North Stars added an insurance goal with 6:29 left to play. An unmarked Kayla Floyd lofted the ball from 30 yards on the right side of the pitch and into the net before McPhee got her hand on it.
“It started with a nice pass by Sophie Kirsten (Akron commit). Kayla Floyd had a positive first touch that set up a heck of a shot going in.” Harks said. “It was something that Kayla has been known to do a time or two in practice, so it’s awesome to see her get rewarded in the game like that.”
Floyd was confident the kick would end with a goal.
“That shot is something I practice a lot. It’s about getting a good touch and getting it off my foot
quick,” the junior midfielder said.” I knew it was going in when it came off my foot.”
Harks was afraid the officials wouldn't allow Floyd’s second goal of the year.
“From my angle, it looked like it crossed the line. But it was one of those where you know it’s a goal and you just pray that the AR sees it the same way,” the North Stars coach said. “Sure enough the flag went up, and they counted the goal.”
The North Stars midfield also made its coach proud.
“I thought that our midfield did a nice job of connecting passes, switching the point of attack, and they also did a fantastic job of winning that 50/50 battle,” he said.
Leal also thought his midfield battled well.
“I think our midfield did really well today. They were able to play and compete against the three midfielders they had,” he said. “They were communicating and marking as well as they could, but those girls are so talented that our girls have to work a little extra harder which is good. It’s what I want.”
St. Charles North gave Floyd the defensive assignment was to neutralize Oswego East midfielder Anya Gulbrandsen, who is committed to play at Wisconsin.
“I think Kayla did such a nice job winning the air game today and connecting passes with her feet and defending number three (Gulbrandsen).” said Harks. “She is a very talented player, and Kayla did a nice job of containing her.”
For her defensive effort and insurance goal, Floyd was named the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match.
Leal said his offense is in a state of flux.
“Right now, we’re struggling with our forward position,” he said. “We’re moving a couple of girls around just trying to figure out who our best option is. My true forwards are Erica Smiley (Iowa commit) and Ana Morales. Erica started today.”
Editor’s note: Acccording to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, graupels are “soft, small pellets formed when supercooled water droplets - typically at a temperature below 32F - freeze onto a snow crystal.”
GK: Samantha McPhee
D: Emma Rosenthal
D: Emma Klosterman
D: Veronica Hamilton
D: Jocelyn Cruz
M: Gabby McPhee
M: Morgan Hoffman
M: Anya Gulbrandsen
M: Lana Bomstad
M: Ashley Gumm
F: Erika Smiley
St. Charles East
GK: Kara Claussner
D: Abby Sims
D: Chloe Kirsten
D: Lauren Balster
D: Abby Vichich
M: Kayla Floyd
M: Bella Najera
M: Sophia Kirsten
F: Rian Spaulding
F: Juliana Park
F: Laney Stark
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Kayla Floyd, jr., MF, St. Charles North
SCN: Laney Stark (Bella Najera), 11th minute
SCN: Kayla Floyd (Sophie Kirsten), 74th minute