AURORA – Metea Valley junior Lucy Burk wasn’t the most highly touted player on the field Tuesday night.
But she was the best.
The play of Burk, a Northern Michigan recruit, was a major reason why the host Mustangs extended their unbeaten streak to 32 games. She scored the game-tying goal and set up the winner when she drew a penalty kick, which Tyra King converted with 8:36 remaining in regulation.
“The funny thing is (King) gets to take all the glory for the goal, but Lucy really did all the dirty work,” Metea Valley coach Chris Whaley said. “Lucy flipped a switch tonight and created well, scored the tying goal, relieved some nerves probably in our girls and in their coach.”
It all added up to a 2-1 victory over Naperville Central which clinched Metea’s second-consecutive DuPage Valley Conference championship. The Mustangs (15-0-3, 5-0-0), who are ranked at the top of Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, capped off another perfect league-slate in dramatic fashion, rallying from a goal down against determined Naperville Central (8-5-1, 3-2-0).
The Redhawks took the game down to the wire despite losing starting midfielders Lauren Thorne and Nicole Smith to injury. Northwestern-bound star striker Megan Norkett played limited, mostly ineffectual minutes due to illness.
Naperville Central took a 1-0 lead after Bella Brozek caught up to a great lead pass up the left wing, raced around the corner of the defense and, after being confronted by Metea Valley goalkeeper Alyssa Gluting, slid a short pass to her right to a wide-open Thorne, who scored in the 56th minute.
But it didn’t take long for Burk to get the equalizer. She cut in from the right wing and ripped a left-footed shot from 17 yards into the upper left corner of the Naperville Central net at the 20 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation.
“In the beginning of the first half, I was having some troubles getting to the endline, which I’m normally successful at,” Burk said. “So. I talked to my coach at halftime. He told me to maybe pull it back more.
“So before making the endline, I decided to cut it in and just swing my leg at it. It worked out perfectly. It was the perfect boost.
“All we need is that little thing, that little kick, and we’re right back to where we started. It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Burk gave the Mustangs exactly what Whaley wanted from her, and what the Mustangs needed.
“Lucy was just working her butt off in the box,” Whaley said. “We talked before the game and at halftime about being more effective in the box, being more aggressive in both boxes, offensively and defensively. I think Lucy took that to heart today and earned a penalty kick. Tyra had lots of confidence to step up and just bury it, so it was really nice to see.”
Indeed, Burk created the decisive play when she tried to get around a defender in the middle of the box and was tripped. She opted not to take the ensuing spot-kick.
“I’m not the greatest PK taker,” Burk said. “I’ve learned from my past.
“I drew the foul. I think of all people Tyra deserved to get that shot, because Tyra is also very successful at PKs. She was man-marked the whole game. She deserved to have a moment of relaxation and just kick one home.”
Which is exactly what King did. The Northern Illinois-recruit drilled her attempt into the lower left corner past lunging Naperville Central goalkeeper Emma Dram, who guessed right but had no chance to stop the rocket.
“When I take a PK, I try to hit it with as much power as I can,” King said. “Because if she reads it, she still won’t be able to get it, because of the speed of the ball.”
The penalty was the only shot of the game for King, who was marked by Naperville Central star defender Ella Burke. It was Burk who picked up the slack. She had three of the Mustangs’ eight shots, including another nifty play in which she nutmegged a defender on the right wing before cutting in and sending a sharp shot which Dram saved with 7:30 remaining.
“She’s been doing amazing,” King said of Burk. “She works so hard, and she’s very versatile. It’s been a great help to us that she’s been stepping up.
“I know she’s going to do more great things next year when all the seniors are gone, so I’m really excited for her.”
Naperville Central coach Troy Adams was excited despite the loss, encouraged by what he saw from the Redhawks, who could play the Mustangs again in the sectional semifinals.
“As I told the girls, ‘I’ll let you know when I’m not happy,’” Adams said. “There’s no part of that game that I’m unhappy with.
“Unlucky? Disappointed? Yeah. We had a chance right in front of the goal, and it didn’t go in. There was another shot where the goalie literally had to turn backward to grab it.”
The Redhawks matched the Mustangs shot for shot and corner kick for corner kick and were unlucky not to put another one in. The game was still scoreless 12 minutes after intermission when Brozek had two short shots denied -- Gluting stopped the first one, and a defender blocked the second.
Then with the score tied at 1-1, sophomore forward Emma Russell got the ball at the top of the circle. In a good impersonation of Norkett, she turned and fired a 20-yard shot that beat Gluting but struck the right post.
“She was the post 9 that we needed with Megan not being able to go,” Adams said. “I think she played well.”
As did most of the Redhawks, who took the reigning state champions down to the wire on their home field.
“This is the game that I’ve been waiting for all season,” Adams said. “We knew our potential.
“We knew our ability and how to play. We’ve just got to be consistent, and that was as good of an 80 minutes that we’ve played.”
Why was that?
“We were focused,” Adams said. “We talked about playing with a little bit of an edge tonight.
“We sometimes come out a little bit not quite as intense as we need to be. Today they were dialed in. They were super intense. They played hard.
“They were going in for every 50/50. The intensity we played with today allowed us to play with the best team in the state, took them all the way to the end.
“We can’t change this game. But we can play well the next two and then we might see them again and get another crack at them.”
That would be a rematch worth seeing. The Mustangs are the state champions until someone knocks them off. That won’t be easy because they are talented, determined and focused on each game they play.
“Last year was just an amazing year,” King said. “Being able to experience winning a state championship with my teammates and my best friends was a great experience. To do that again would be a blessing.”
GK: Erin Hackett
D: Chloe Mowry
D: Taylor Walk
D: Ella Burke
D: Anna Sadowski
M: Nicole Smith
M: Rebecca Ruggiero
M: Lauren Thorne
F: Malia Shen
F: Bella Brozek
F: Megan Norkett
GK: Alyssa Gluting
D: Kyleigh Jannisch
D: Sydney Phillips
D: Kaylee Bannack
D: Zoe Kirkman
M: Lily Senese
M: Riley Strcic
M: Alyssa Parrilli
F: Tyra King
F: Lucy Burk
F: Mckenna Wigfield
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Lucy Burk, jr., F, Metea Valley
Naperville Central: Lauren Thorne (Bella Brozek) 24:05 remaining
Metea Valley: Lucy Burk 20:34 remaining
Metea Valley: Tyra King (PK) 8:36 remaining