By Bobby Narang
LA GRANGE – Metea Valley junior goalie Alyssa Gluting slowly took her time.
Patience seemed very important for Gluting.
She was in the moment and slowed down to concentrate on the task at hand.
Failure could be uncomfortable for Gluting, and maybe affect her teammates – like maybe make their slides stick to the bus floor.
Gluting found a small plot of grass to take off her Coca-Cola-drenched long neon socks Sunday to avoid bringing any of the sticky substance onto the team transport. The unusual situation was a good thing. It came after Metea Valley, ranked no. 1 every week so far this season in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, participated in the trademark celebration of spraying soda over each other and taking lots of pictures and videos after a Sunday afternoon win in the Body Armor tournament.
The defending Class 3A state champions, kept their undefeated streak this season intact with a thrilling 1-0 victory over Lincoln-Way Central.
Another teammate had a different idea, racing out of the grassy area to near a building, across the street from the complex toward the bright red Coca-Cola truck. She asked if she could take home a 2-liter bottle, perhaps for a post-game indulgence or a celebrated keepsake from memorable performances over the past two weekends.
Metea Valley (11-0-3) won the clash of unbeatens despite not having two of its all-state players – NIU-bound Tyra King and Chicagoland Soccer Player of the Year and North Central College recruit Jordan Lange, both sidelined with injuries.
The third returning Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater, junior forward Lucy Burk, scored the winning goal in the second half on a header off a perfectly placed curving serve from Riley Strcic with 22 minutes to go on the clock.
“I think today was such a great team win,” Gluting said. “Overall, our defense, midfield and forwards really pulled it together. We are missing two of our forwards, but we showed this game that we can adapt to that and adapt to the challenges we face. It was a great team win.”
The Mustangs are the first team in the history of the tournament, on the boys or girls side, to win a Sunday game in four-straight seasons.
Metea Valley coach Chris Whaley said Sunday’s game was a stiff challenge. The shorthanded Mustangs showed some fortitude to quickly rebound from a 2-2 draw to Batavia on Saturday to defeat the Knights.
“We’re hoping to get them back real soon,” Whaley said of his missing stars. “Jordan has missed half of the last game (a 3-1 win vs. Boylan April 16) and Saturday’s and Tyra has been out for five or six games. We’ve been rotating girls all year long, so some girls’ roles have just gotten bigger.
“Everybody played well. I thought our defense played a really big game against a really good team. We gave up a couple of silly goals on Saturday but rebounded nicely from that.
“We’re asking some girls to be more dynamic up-front because of somebody like Jordan being out. Everybody is stepping in and doing what they can to help the team.
“It was a battle, the fine balance of playing good soccer and being gritty and tough. I thought our girls stepped up and physically went toe-to-toe with a very strong team.”
Sixth-ranked Lincoln-Way Central (10-1-2) battled the Mustangs down to the final whistle. Even in defeat, the Knights gained insight competing wire-to-wire against the Mustangs.
“We’re certainly going to learn from this and move forward,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Sean Fahey said. “It was pretty evident we created a ton of opportunities but sometimes the game is cruel and the final touch doesn’t go your way.
“Both of us were on a roll. This was a great matchup, just what you expected it to be. We showed that we don’t stop. We didn’t have a bad attitude and just kept plugging away.
“We almost scored six different times during that stretch. The will to keep going and fighting was special. Both of us played back-to-back days.
“We showed a good response after they scored. I was super proud of the way we attacked, attacked and attacked. It just didn’t happen for us today. We’re going to try to get through the next few weeks healthy and get fired up for the postseason.”
The plush grass on the field played a factor in the game, slowing down the tempo and possession and leading to a physical battle that featured several hard tackles. The tournament’s opening weekend April 15-16, which was riddled with cancellations due to the weather, was played on synthetic turf at Olympic Park in Schaumburg.
Metea Valley’s Strcic suffered two in-game minor injuries against Lincoln-Way Central but stayed on the pitch. Teammate Lily Senese hurt her lower leg late in the first half.
“This field creates a different dynamic than it would be like at the state tournament,” Fahey said. “It’s thick, slow and a huge field. The game becomes a jumbled mess in the middle. It was a hard-fought battle.”
Burk saved the day with her quick dash to the far post to head in the ball from eight yards past Lincoln-Way Central goalie Sofia Jurnes. Burk, a Northern Michigan recruit, said she was shocked to be unmarked.
“I noticed that I wasn’t marked, looked over at Riley because I know she can place a perfect ball,” Burk said. “I put my hand up to tell her I was open. I was able to get my head on the ball.
“… I heard everyone (from Lincoln-Way Central) saying that I was open, but nobody came.
“It felt amazing to score. I have only scored one other header before this one. We needed this win. We had a super long week and knew we wanted to get this win.
“(Lincoln-Way Central) is a really good team. It shows that even though they had a chip on their shoulders that we can hold our own. Despite having two of our good players out, we’re still a great team without them. It’s been difficult not having them, because they are very key players, but we’ve had some other players step up for them.”
Lincoln-Way Central senior midfielder Madisyn Kenworthy, who scored the winning goal in last season’s Class 3A third place victory over Evanston for the program’s best state placing since a runnerup finish in 2000, said it was disappointing to lose to the Mustangs.
The Knights posted a stellar 25-2-0 record last season, losing only to Warren in early April (2-0) and 2-0 to the Mustangs in their 3A state semifinal.
“We were looking forward to playing them since it was a matchup from last year,” she said. “Realizing we were playing on grass was a bit of a throw-off, because I haven’t played on grass in forever. It was a really good battle for all of us, especially for the players who were here last year to play the rematch again. It was a really good game.”
Kenworthy, a Wisconsin-Platteville signee, said Sunday’s game had several positives. After the Mustangs scored the game’s only goal, the Knights played with more energy and spent a 10-minute stretch late in the second half controlling possession in the penalty area. They pressured Metea Valley’s backline and took numerous shots. The Mustangs, though, answered every threat with a deflection along with one save by Gluting during the tense period.
“We were really hyped before the game and ready to go,” Kenworty said. “We learned how much we battle after we go down. That hasn’t happened much this season, because we’ve been on a roll.
“It was nice to see how we reacted and how we had that good stretch that we had four-five to 10 minutes and everybody remained positive. I think we can go pretty far this year. If we work together, who knows how far we can go.”
Gluting said her backline made her look good, especially in the heavy press when Lincoln-Way Central hunted for the equalizer. Gluting, who made a recruiting visit to UIC last weekend, opened the game with a great foot save with 29 minutes left.
“My defensive line nonstop kept getting the ball out, corner after corner and cross after cross,” said Gluting, a first-year starter. “Everybody played to the end. I was trying to stay focused and scanning and telling my defense where to mark up. They played great. Our backline completely shut them down and prevented the shots and were able to always clear out crosses.
“I’m trying to step up, and I’m getting better every game. The team is supporting me and we’ve done a great job.”
Metea Valley junior defender Zoe Kirkman was one of the standouts in the game, neutralizing several threats with her aggressiveness and tenacity. Kirkman and the rest of the backline of Alyssa Parrilli, Kaylee Bannack and Sydney Phillips helped keep the Knights from scoring a goal for just the second time all season. The Knights earned a scoreless draw against Lockport on March 23.
“We trusted each other and covered each other,” Kirkman said. “We all are having a lot of fun together and been supportive of each other on the field and being there for each other all the time. I’m so excited for the rest of the season. It has been great so far. I was nervous coming into how it would look.”
Jumes showed some moxie in the net for the Lincoln-Way Central with three saves, highlighted by a punch-out save in the opening minutes of the final half. The marquee game was fittingly the final match of the esteemed tournament; both teams played an aggressive and clean game to close out the tourney.
“It was a great game,” Whaley said.
GK: Alyssa Gluting
D: Sydney Phillips
D: Kaylee Bannack
D: Alyssa Parrilli
D: Zoe Kirkman
MF: Lily Senese
MF: Kyleigh Jannisch
MF: McKenna Winfield
MF: Cydnie Bayless
F: Riley Strcic
F: Lucy Burk
GK: Sofia Junes
D: Abby Sudkamp
D: Chloe Grundhofer
D: Christine Erdman
D: Brittney Veugeler
MF: Lila Hadley
MF: Reagan Schultz
MF: Emma Wagner
MF: Madisyn Kenworthy
F: Alex Lehnert
F: Madi Watt
Chicagoland MVP of the Match: Lucy Burk, Metea Valley, junior, forward
Metea Valley: Burk (Strcic), 48’