By Bobby Narang
NAPERVILLE – Neuqua Valley forward Selma Larbi had several thoughts running through her head in the final few minutes of Tuesday’s rivalry game against Waubonsie Valley.
First off, Larbi admitted she was a bit frustrated at the lack of goals by her team, despite a number of quality shot attempts especially in a shot-heavy second half aided by a strong wind toward the Waubonsie Valley goal.
Secondly, Larbi, like most of the players in the DuPage Valley Conference match, was bothered by the conditions sparked by the stiff wind.
“It was very cold,” she said.
Finally, Larbi was not keen on extra soccer.
The two teams battled for a result in a high-intensity match that seemed headed to overtime before Larbi’s strong and accurate right foot took control of the outcome.
“We all didn’t want to play overtime,” she said.
The sophomore drilled a shot from nearly 35 yards into the back of the net with just under three minutes left in regulation to power Neuqua Valley to a 3-2 victory over Waubonsie Valley.
The Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match scored two goals to deliver a quality home victory. With the win, the Wildcats (5-6-1, 1-3-0) continued their momentum swing following a stinging 7-1 loss to Naperville North on April 25. The Wildcats have played stellar soccer against highly competitive teams since, starting with a 4-3 win over Hinsdale Central and tying Lyons 1-1 before beating the Warriors (5-9-1, 0-2-0).
Larbi said she was focused on ending the match to hand her team a badly needed conference victory. Before her winning shot, Waubonsie Valley sophomore Thanya Castelan tied things with her second goal of the game, knocking in a shot off a long ball pass with 6:15 left in the game.
A lengthy and active player with a strong foot, Larbi answered with her hard-hit shot that gained speed with the wind.
“I knew the time was winding down, and we needed to get shots. I just got the ball, turned and tried to shoot it (with) the wind,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure the angle was right. It felt really good to score that goal. It feels good to gain momentum going into the playoffs. We have to connect passes and stay calm under pressure and not be so frantic.”
Neuqua Valley freshman midfielder Allesandra Russo was a key factor in the victory. Her ability to stop attacks and lead them helped keep Waubonsie Valley from scoring more than one goal in the first half with the wind in their favor.
“We had moments where we were just kicking it. Then we relaxed, and we were finally able to connect. That’s where we got more shots,” Russo said.
“Once we had the wind it was a lot easier, because we were able to take farther shots, and our passes were going where we wanted them to. I feel once we calmed down, we played better.
“Obviously, we have a very young team, but we have some good potential going forward. This win helps.”
Sophomore midfielder Chloe Orlow nearly scored a goal with 13-plus minutes to go until halftime, but her header just missed the target. Orlow echoed Russo’s comments on Neuqua Valley’s lack of focus early in the game.
“We have to stay composed and were just kicking the ball,” Orlow said. “Once we calmed down and were looking for the passes and open spaces, we were able to dominate them and get those open chances on goal. It feels great to get a win, especially against Waubonsie. We have to get momentum going into the playoffs.”
In the second half, Neuqua Valley immediately started playing more aggressively to take advantage of the wind. They had eight shots in the first 11 minutes of the second half, highlighted by Larbi’s attempt that was saved by Waubonsie Valley keeper Meredith Stemm, who dived to her left for the save in the 44th minute.
Stemm collected 12 saves in the game, including eight in the tense final 40 minutes. She showed her toughness with four saves in a six-minute span early in the second half.
Larbi put her first into the back of the net in the 53rd minute, blasting a bullet shot to tie the game at 1-1.
“They were against the wind, so I read that the punts were going to be short and saw the punt didn’t go far,” Larbi said. “I was there and took the ball and shot it.”
Russo picked a good time to notch her first goal of the season. Just 71 seconds later, she handed her team a 2-1 edge. Russo placed a soft shot into the net from 15 yards.
“There was a corner, and Chloe got the ball and kind of laid it off,” Russo said. “I saw that I had a decent angle and took a touch and shot it, and aimed side netting.”
Both of Waubonsie Valley’s goals came thanks to the quickness and tenacity of Castelan. She took advantage of a pair of long balls over the defense.
Aided by a big bounce, Castelan retrieved the ball, slowed down to set herself and scored for a 1-0 Waubonsie Valley lead with 2:47 remaining until halftime. Her second goal was just the third shot attempt by her team in the second half. She beat her defender in a 1-v-1, then scored in a similar fashion. She dialed down her speed before scoring her second goal and tying the score.
“We fought back and to get the goal in the wind was quality, but we gave it back at the end,” Waubonsie Valley coach Julie Bergstrom said. “We have to stay switched on the whole game and play a full 80 minutes. We have to keep working on the individual battles to match a team and being able to move the ball and play simple. We have to finish our chances.”
Neuqua Valley coach Arnoldo Gonzalez was impressed by how his team responded in the second half following a lackluster first half showing.
“Our first half was nothing like the way we’ve been playing,” he said. “I thought we were completely flat. The wind helped a bit. We put the pressure on them, and that’s why we got our goals. We had a couple of nice bangers. We wanted to put pressure on them, get them on their heels and try and get them a bit shaky.
“I think everyone recognized we weren’t playing to our strengths early in the game. We were losing every single ball and not connecting passes. In the first five minutes, we had some play here and there but were not building anything.
“The second half was a much better half. They got two goals on playing the long ball where we were playing the offsides. You have to keep your run until the flag goes up. I was very content with their play.
“We’re trying to play consistent soccer. We’ve had a lot of close losses, but they’ve been very good games. If we can minimize our mistakes, we will be in every single game. We’re a young team, but we’re trying to be consistent with our play.
“Chloe had a very solid game in the middle, played big and was all over the place and winning a lot of balls. In the first half, when we were very flat, she was one of the more consistent ones.”
GK: Meredith Stemm
D: Katie Chapman
D: Zoe Evans
D: Kayla Vogt
D: Macy Evans
MF: Katie Chapman
MF: Eleanor Oster
MF: Ceci Galarza
MF: Ellie Morris
F: Taylor Ahmadian
F: Thanya Castelan
GK: Zoe Fabian
D: Reagan Rushing
D: Kate Wohlfeil
D: Lauren Milani
D: Chloe Orlow
MF: Grace Petrina
MF: Victoria Jaimes
MF: Brie Clasen
F: Selma Larbi
F: Alexis May
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Selma Larbi, so., F, Neuqua Valley
Waubonsie Valley: Castelan (Ahmadian), 37’
Neuqua Valley: Larbi (unassisted), 53’
Neuqua Valley: Russo (Orlow), 54’
Waubonsie Valley: Castelan (unassisted), 74’
Neuqua Valley: Larbi (unassisted), 77’