NAPERVILLE– There were a lot of unknowns for Naperville North before the season started. Now, just when things seemed to be settling down, there’s another question mark; and this one is huge.
After scoring on a booming 30-yarder to give the Huskies an early lead, Naperville North freshman standout Claire DeCook went down with a leg injury and had to be helped off the field with 16 minutes left in the opening half.
She didn’t return, but thanks to her sister’s goal early in the second half, along with a strong defensive effort down the stretch, the host Huskies earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over New Trier in their Naperville Invitational quarterfinal match Thursday night.
“We’re not sure (how severe the injury is), but we’re obviously crossing our fingers,” Huskies coach Steve Goletz said. “What a game for us. Anytime you play New Trier, you know what you’re going to get. They’re super well-organized, physical, and they make you obviously have to be great and win 50/50 balls and first and second balls, and be organized on restarts. I really thought we were good tonight for such a young inexperienced group.”
The Huskies, ranked ninth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, advance to Friday’s semifinal against no. 3 Barrington. On March 15, the Fillies blanked the visiting Huskies 2-0 in the teams’ opening match of the season.
Goletz hopes his young star can jump back into action soon. He wants the Huskies' fun season to continue with the whole crew intact.
“It’s interesting, because sometimes the teams you aren’t sure about give you the most joy,” Goletz said. “And this year this team has given me so much joy to coach these kids.
“They’re a group that cares so much about this program, and they heard all offseason that we were going to be down. And for kids to battle through the lower levels of the program and come in with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder that they’re good players, and they bought into what is important to us.
“So, for us to put together a string of games like this and to get a chance against Barrington is just fantastic. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort from top to bottom.”
Claire DeCook’s 17th goal of the season illustrated just how special of a player she already is as a freshman. Her injury and the collective gasp of worry from the Huskies illustrated just how much she means to her teammates and the program.
“It was unrealistic to think Claire was going to come in here as a freshman and light the world on fire as she has,” Goletz said. “And she has needed the support of all of her teammates: our backline to win balls, all of our midfielders to get service into her and our forwards have battled so hard for her.”
Starting junior midfielder Rachael Noren picked up the slack when Claire DeCook went down.
“Rachael Noren comes in and plays by far her best,” Goletz said. “She didn’t score, but in the second half and in the end of the first half she held the ball for us, was dangerous, drew fouls, battled in the box and got chances out wide. It’s a different style than what Claire plays, but it was so effective.”
And it was exactly what the Huskies needed.
“Our team has the ability step up and fight for each other,” Goletz said. “When you see someone go down you see how much they care about them.
“As a coach wins and losses are awesome but when you see your kids buy in and play for something bigger than themselves then you know you have something special. I feel our program is special. I see the results we put together year after year, and it’s because the kids care. I have the best of the best when it comes to kids caring, and you could see that they are able to do some great things here.”
With concerns of her younger sister flooding her head, Cameron DeCook fought and won a 50/50 ball and proceeded to quickly turn it into what proved to be a vital insurance goal. Her shot put the Huskies ahead 2-0 with 29:02 still left to play.
“I was able to turn her wide and drove to the end line and took a left-footed shot,” DeCook said. “I just tried to put it on target. It was really awesome, because I was thinking about (my sister). That goal helped me take a deep breath and allowed us to lock in on defense with that extra cushion, which we ended up needing.”
While she may not be as prolific a scorer as her sister, Cameron DeCook recognizes the importance of her role. She found a way to persevere despite the obvious distraction and earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor.
“(My sister Claire is) amazing,” Cameron DeCook said. “We have such strong team chemistry. We’re not just playing for ourselves; we’re playing for the whole team. If we were playing for ourselves we wouldn’t have come out on top. Individual effort would not be enough. Together we could do it, because we know each other so well.”
Eighth-ranked New Trier (13-3-1) was coming off a 3-0 loss to Evanston on Tuesday and fell victim to another sluggish start.
“I thought our girls fought back after coming out super flat,” Trevians coach Jim Burnside said. “They (Naperville North) took advantage of that. They are athletic and quick and close spaces really quickly. I think our girls adjusted a little bit too slowly in a good game like this.”
While losing consecutive games is unfamiliar territory for the Trevians this spring, they also faced two of the better teams in the state this week.
“We want to challenge ourselves each and every day and to play against great competition,” Burnside said. “It’s what prepares us for where we want to be. It’s a learning process for this group. When you see good competition, you have to rise to the challenge. I thought we did that in the second half, but you can’t put yourself in a hole against good teams.”
New Trier senior midfielder Lida Dodge had the majority of New Trier’s scoring threats and for good reason -- her exceptionally strong right foot. Eventually, the Trevians broke though after Dodge sent a ball into the box. Nora Westol go to the ball before Sybil Evans was able to seize possession and finish it with 9:05 left to halve the deficit.
Dodge sent a few long free kicks into the box the remainder of the game, but Naperville North held its ground and cleared the offerings before they turned into an equalizer for New Trier.
“We just had to stay composed in the back,” Huskies senior defender Alison Sutton said. “We have struggled in containing a tough team like this, but we really locked them in and tried to maintain our communication. It was a tough battle, but we got the finish we wanted.”
Going head-to-head against Dodge was the exact kind of challenge Sutton was looking for.
“I love playing someone as strong and with the same build as me,” Sutton said. “I love those kinds of battles, and I go all out.”
Sluggish starts have plagued New Trier. If the team has learned anything this week, it’s that it can’t afford to allow that trend to continue.
“We’ve got to be ready,” New Trier junior Josie Noble said. “We’re going to have do this in state championship games so you have to show up and play and be ready. You can’t come out slowly like we did. We’ve got to come out firing.”
Noble acknowledged that the team has the grit and toughness needed to succeed, but sometimes they don’t show it.
“We didn’t come out like we needed to, and (against Evanston) we didn’t come out prepared,” she said. “We have that grit and toughness, but we need to show it. We showed some in the second half, but we have got to come out with it initially instead of … waiting for it to come out when we really need it.”
Said Dodge, “I think we brought more intensity in the second half and picked it up. We just kept fighting, and we came close.”
GK: Caroline Hague
D: Kennedy Colegrove
D: Honor Dold
D: Clara Deliduka
MF: Josie Noble
MF: Sybil Evans
MF: Lydia Vassalo
MF: Lida Dodge
F: Charlotte Dellin
F: Lauren Caldwell
F: Nora Westol
GK: Olivia Ochsner
D: Maggie Fitzgerald
D: Addison Sitzmann
D: Reagan O’Malley
D: Abby Penn
D: Alison Sutton
MF: Audrey Hartmann
MF: Jacey Sturek
MF: Rachael Noren
F: Cameron DeCook
F: Claire DeCook
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Cameron DeCook, sr., F, Naperville North
Naperville North: Claire DeCook (unassisted) 25:28 remaining
Naperville North: Cameron DeCook (unassisted) 29:02 remaining
New Trier: Sybil Evans (Nora Westol) 9:05 remaining