BATAVIA — The most significant play of the rematch between the St. Charles powers played out before the game even started.
St. Charles East was accorded the chance to call the opening coin flip. Statistical models and probabilities have long been drawn to the question of whether it truly is a 50/50 probability, or perhaps something closer to 51/49.
The human element also factors in, given the speed of the flip, the angle, etc.
St. Charles East lost the flip. St. Charles North chose to play with the strong southern winds at their back.
“With the wind, we wanted to get that right away,” St. Charles North midfielder Bella Najera said. “I told my team to take a lot of shots and get after them, because the wind really helped us.
“I just came out strong. They are a really good team, and it felt great to come out like that.”
Najera scored two goals as part of a stunning three-goal opening half as the North Stars, ranked fourth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, blitzed the no. 5 Saints 4-1 Tuesday night in the opening game of the annual DuKane Conference doubleheader known as Tri-Cities Night.
The annual fundraiser and soccer bonanza featured three ranked teams, including no. 16 Geneva and previously listed host Batavia, and was played in front of an attendance of about 1,500.
In beating their rival for the second time in five days, the North Stars (13-2-1, 5-0-0) seized control of the league standings.
Midfielder Julianna Park, whose 78th-minute goal was the difference last Friday in the 2-1 victory in the semifinals of the Naperville Invitational, had another big rivalry game. She scored a goal and registered two assists.
Forward Rian Spaulding also scored a goal and assisted both of the Najera goals.
St. Charles East (16-2-0, 4-1-0) reeled under the attack.
“We definitely thought we were going to be more prepared since we played a couple of days ago,” defender Mackenzie Loomis said.
“I think we definitely need to work on our energy, because our energy definitely dropped throughout the game. We kept being scored on so that just affected how we played.”
The winds gusted more than 20 miles per hour, acting as an accelerant on the ball as the North Stars seemed in perpetual and constant downhill motion at the start.
With Najera and Park controlling the ball in the middle of the attack, the runners at the top laid siege to the Saints’ back. The ball lived in their final third for much of the first half.
The pressure set up the opening Najera goal in the 14th minute. Spaulding controlled the ball and played it behind to Najera, who smashed a left-footed blast from about 19 yards to an undefendable location.
“I think we came out with a lot more energy than they did,” Najera said. “We knew they were going to come out really hard, so we just tried to double that.”
The psychological ramifications of the early lead are virtually impossible to overstate. The North Stars were climbing the emotional momentum of the earlier victory.
This added a gale to their sails.
“I was just so happy to get that early lead,” Najera said. “You never know what is going to happen in soccer, so we just had to come out fighting and score and make sure to get a lot of goals right away.”
St. Charles North did stop. It maintained the pressure, hitting a follow-up that smashed off the post. Another ball by Spaulding was stopped by a great clearance from Loomis.
“I thought we came out flat, but you’re going up against 20 mph winds. You play the ball into the air, and it comes right back to you,” St. Charles East coach Vince DiNuzzo said. “I thought we were in the right mindset prior to the game, and we had some things planned out that I thought we executed. But they put six shots on frame, and four of them were right at the crossbar.”
St. Charles North achieved its highest moment during a five-minute stretch late in the first half.
Fast and fluid and very dangerous with the ball, Park has been a sensational complementary piece to Najera. She has come into her own of late, showing great shot-creation off the dribble.
Working from nearly an identical location as Najera’s opening goal, Park received a ball from Spaulding, and drilled her own left-footed version from 17 yards in the 31st minute.
“It was a great team effort, an exciting game, and I thought we did a great job in the first half at finishing our chances,” Park said. “It’s really great to play with somebody as talented as Bella, and be able to connect and toss the ball around with her.”
The Park and Najera combination showed their intricate connection on a textbook goal in the 35th minute.
Off a corner from the left wing, Park threw the Saints off by playing the ball not in the air, but on the ground. Najera found an open spot and timed her run brilliantly for the 16-yard bullet from the top of the box.
Bella Najera earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for her outstanding play.
St. Charles North nearly matched the previous seven goals St. Charles East conceded in their first 14 games with a combined six goals in the back-to-back victories.
St. Charles East was super-charged for the start of the second half with the wind at its back.
In the opening seconds, forward Grace Williams got to the end line and played a ball that midfielder Georggia Desario just missed wide from about 13 yards.
Williams had two other virtual breakaways, except the ball pushed forward and her angle at the goal was cut off by the time she reached it.
Spaulding pushed the lead out to 4-0 in the 54th minute on a beautiful give-and-go with Park.
St. Charles East finally broke free in the 61st minute with an unorthodox scoring sequence. After Williams was clipped inside the box, the Saints were awarded a penalty kick.
Loomis has already scored three penalty kicks.
Her initial ball bounced off the right post, only for the ball to come directly back to her before any other player could respond.
Loomis smashed home the rebound to the opposite end for the Saints score.
“The wind not only affected how they played during the first half,’ Loomis said. “We just weren't used to it. It changed the long balls and how we like to control the ball.”
“They started out strong.”
St. Charles North had its own motivation after the Saints ended their season last year in the 3-1 Class 3A sectional championship game.
“We always have a great rivalry with them, and we were really disappointed after that sectional game last year, because we had a great team,” Najera said.
“We were just coming out to keep up our momentum.”
After a dream opening that featured 10 shutouts and a perfect start through 16 games, the Saints now have to regroup and regain their spark.
“There were a ton of opportunities for us during the second half, and I credit our kids for responding after being down 3-0,” DiNuzzo said. “They executed today, and hopefully we are going to get another crack to play them.
“This was a big game, so congratulations.”
St. Charles East
GK: Sidney Lazenby
D: Amanda Stepien
D: Mackenzie Loomis
D: Lauren Silvestri
MF: Georggia Desario
MF: Alli Saviano
MF: Kara Machala
MF: Tia Bernstein
F: Ella Stehman
F: Grace Williams
F: Mia Raschke
St. Charles North
GK: Kara Claussner
D: Abby Sims
D: Lauren Balster
D: Abby Vichich
D: Chloe Kirsten
MF: Kayla Floyd
MF: Juliana Park
MF: Bella Najera
F: Rian Spaulding
F: Sophie Kirsten
F: Laney Stark
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Bella Najera, sr., MF, St. Charles North
St. Charles North—Bella Najera (Rian Spaulding), 14th minute
St. Charles North—Julianna Park (Spaulding), 31st minute
St. Charles North—Najera (Park), 35th minute
St. Charles North—Spaulding (Park), 54th minute
St. Charles East—Mackenzie Loomis (unassisted), 61st minute