Growing up in Geneva, senior midfielder Rilee Hasegawa has always recognized soccer as the ultimate connector. The game transcends time, and increasingly, place.
In the close-knit world binding Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles, the faces and names mix together and form a unique pattern.
On the eve of last year’s rivalry game with Batavia played on Tri-Cities Night, Hasegawa suffered a broken ankle. It meant she missed participating on the field on a night that goes beyond borders and communities.
“Batavia is a team we look forward to playing every year,” Hasegawa said. “As our closest rivals, the atmosphere and urgency of play is going to be one of the highest of the season.
“It connects us, and I am personally ready to get back on the field with my friends from Batavia and Geneva.”
The annual Tri-Cities Night is a soccer bonanza that brings together four top programs in a single setting for a brilliant DuKane Conferernce doubleheader.
The event has placed at its center a celebration of families, communities and giving.
Over the years, Tri-Cities Night has recognized the next generation with halftime scrimmages involving middle school athletes from its school districts.
The event has also been a fundraiser for community organizations and families in need.
This year’s special tribute honors the remarkable courage and bravery exhibited by Batavia student Sydney Mowen.
“I do not know Sydney personally, but I am aware of her story,” Batavia midfielder Riley DiBiase said. “I know recovery is always a difficult process, so I’m honored that I get to be a part of something that can assist her and her family.”
Born with a congenital heart defect that required five separate surgeries before the age of 6, Sydney underwent a 12-hour procedure for a heart transplant December 30. She is currently preparing for her return to school.
“Tri-Cities Night is super meaningful because we are playing for a cause,” St. Charles East forward Grace Williams said. “All the schools come together and play for a family. That’s an amazing feeling.”
After the boys’ version of the event at Geneva last fall, the event now shifts slightly south to Batavia for a riveting, consequential and emotional night of soccer.
In the opening game, St. Charles East, which is ranked fifth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, looks to exact revenge against no. 4 St. Charles North in a game will impacting the league race.
Previously ranked Batavia hosts the no. 16 Vikings in the second game.
It is not uncommon for St. Charles East and St. Charles North to play multiple times in the same season. They played three times in each of the last two seasons.
They were scheduled to face off in the championship game of the Rose Augsburg-Drach Invitational at St. Charles East on March 25, but weather scuttled the game.
The timing has never been so intensely concentrated. On Friday, St. Charles North (11-3-1, 4-0-0) defeated the Saints 2-1 on a 78th-minute goal by midfielder Juliana Park in the semifinals of the Naperville Invitational.
Playing for the second time in five days only ramps up the drama and excitement.
“The emotions are always high when it’s a North vs. East game, but with such a short turnaround from our last game, that will definitely make the game much more intense,” North Stars midfielder Bella Najera said.
“I know they are going to come out super hard looking for revenge. Tri-Cities Night is always one of my favorite games, because I love playing in the competitive rival game against a talented East team. I’m just excited to play with my team and do anything I can to help us win.”
Najera was named the Most Valuable Player of the Naperville Invitational, where the North Stars lost 1-0 against no. 2 Barrington in the championship game.
Last season, St. Charles East suffered two regular-season to its rival, only to turn the tables in a 3-1 Class 3A sectional championship win.
Grace Williams scored two goals in that game. She forms a devastating attack at the Fighting Saints front Ella Stehman and Mia Raschke.
One of the dominant narratives is going to be the matchup between the East offense, featuring the superb passing and playmaking of midfielder Kara Machala, against a very talented and physical St. Charles North defense keyed by elite keeper Kara Claussner and standout defenders Lauren Balster and Abby Vichich.
St. Charles East (16-1-0, 4-0-0) is ready for the challenge and to rebound from its first loss of the season.
“I think this game means everything to us,” Williams said. “It determines the conference, the winner of our tournament, the Fox Valley (recognition) — there’s a lot on the line.”
“I think we all just need to go out there and give 110 percent.”
Geneva is also making the leap directly from the hyper-competitive Naperville Invitational, and preparing for the final two weeks of the regular-season.
The Vikings (11-5-0, 1-2-0) lost tight and competitive conference games to the North and East. All five of their losses are against ranked teams: no. 4 North; no. 5 East: no. 8 Lyons; no. 14 Benet; and no. 19 Naperville Central.
Batavia (6-5-3, 2-1-1) plays at St. Charles East on Thursday, and hosts St. Charles North on Thursday, May 11.
The night is a deeply personal and intense one for the host Bulldogs.
“I always look forward to this game the most, and the fact we get to compete against them on Tri-Cities Night makes it even better,” said DiBiase, who referenced the big, home crowd and charitable aspect of the night.
“I will give my good friend Rilee Hasegawa a shout out. It’s always fun competing against high-level players like her. It forces me to want to outplay her.”
Batavia has also dealt with an extremely challenging and difficult schedule, and acquitted itself well. That's shown through its 4-3 victory over current no. 3 Naperville North and a 2-2 tie with top-ranked and defending state champion Metea Valley.
Forward Avery Solomon has shown a flair for the dramatic, most prominently her 80th-minute game-winner against Neuqua Valley.
This is not going to be your typical Tuesday night in Batavia.
“When I see Geneva on the schedule, it means a higher level of competition and excitement, because the crowd is usually much larger,” Solomon said.
“Everything is heightened when you are playing your rival. Geneva has a great team, and most of us know each other through club soccer or socially. We want to claim this year's win equally on both sides. It makes for a great game, and a game I always remember, especially now that I am a senior.”
Tri-Cities Night showcases high-quality high school soccer, comradery and good will.
“I think this night is the most thrilling time of the season,” Hasegawa said. “The environment of all three towns coming together for a great cause brings tradition and respect for one another.
“The night is able to bring awareness to other families, teams and clubs around the Chicagoland area. I am excited to be a part of a great night.”