AURORA — Wearing Naperville Central colors for the last time, senior Megan Norkett stood tall and clear-eyed, after drying a few tears wrought by Saturday’s 4-0 regional final loss to Lockport.
Moments after a high school career-ending defeat, dejected players don’t always possess the composure needed to discuss the loss or what they’ll miss about playing high school soccer.
Norkett wasn’t one of them.
“I’ll miss everything. I can't even pick one thing out,” Norkett said. “This has been one of my favorite things about high school – coming out to practices and playing with my friends. We bonded, and it's obviously a really hard goodbye. It's been so much fun playing with all these girls, and I'm really going to miss it.”
What Norkett will miss, Lockport’s players will continue to enjoy. Saturday’s win at the Class 3A West Aurora Regional sent the Porters into a sectional semifinal game against defending state champion Metea Valley on Tuesday at East Aurora.
Two goals in the game’s first 13 minutes from Lockport senior Bella Diorio set the tone, and goals from Heather Canny and Megan Posmer in the second half put the game out of reach for Naperville Central (9-6-1).
Lockport, ranked no. 11 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, improved to 21-2-1 with the win and earned the program’s second regional title. The Porters also gave coach Todd Elkei something he’s grown accustomed to.
“The girls played the same way they've been playing all year,” Elkei said. “It's a talented group, a confident group that gets along, and they've got a great attitude. They're a bunch of competitors. A lot of people don't know who we are, but we just step out and play the way we can play.”
No. 23 Naperville Central found dangerous space a handful of times but couldn’t solve Lockport and keeper Elizabeth Rock. The Porters recorded their 14th shutout in 24 games and won their 13th-consecutive game.
“Lockport played better today than we played,” Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. “Credit to them. They played hard, and they're a very good team.
“On their first goal we were in their box, and we lose it; and they basically transition to a goal. But those are things that happen. (Norkett) was close on a couple. But we struggled at midfield winning 50/50s today.”
Back-and-forth play marked the game’s start before Diorio struck in the 10th minute, locating a ball near the 18 before hitting a laser from 15 yards that Naperville Central goalkeeper Erin Hackett had no chance to save.
“The ball just bounced weird over (a defender’s) head, and I kind of caught her off guard,” Diorio said. “Then I just had to finish it.”
The Texas Christian recruit was at it again three minutes later. With a defender draped on her right side, she cut a ball to her left to space inside the 18 and hit a beauty with her left foot — not her dominant foot — giving Lockport a 2-0 lead at 13 minutes.
The stars aligned for this year’s Porters and the biggest of those stars has been senior striker Diorio. With each goal she scores, Diorio sets a new single-season scoring record for the program. The two she buried Saturday gave her 39 goals for the season. She also has 21 assists.
After opting to play club instead of high school soccer her first three seasons, 2023 marks both Diorio’s debut and farewell season of Lockport soccer.
Her brace earned her Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honors.
“Once Bella scored that second goal, they felt like ‘Okay, we got this’,” Elkei said. “Bella is just a natural leader. She told the girls ‘We’ve got this. Don't be nervous, just play our game’. Her and Canny were just amazing today.”
Diorio has enjoyed her lone season of prep soccer.
“Playing club, you're kind of on your own. But here we’re a team, and it's not so much about the individual or whatever,” she said. “We have a lot of new players and the biggest improvement I've seen since tryouts the first week is that we've become a family. The chemistry has skyrocketed. It just took a few games to get used to each other.”
Lockport keeper Rock left her line to snare a free kick sent in by the Redhawks’ Taylor Walk in the 18th minute, and Lockport hit a post before Hackett tipped the ball out of harm’s way in the 24th minute.
Hackett saved Canny at 30 minutes. At 39 minutes Rock made a fine play to keep Lockport’s slate clean, diving near the 18 to gather a ball sent over the top by Naperville Central to a charging Norkett. Norkett fired a hard-hit shot deep on the right side just 10 seconds before halftime, but Rock was on the spot to save it.
After a dangerous opening attack to start the second half went awry for Naperville Central, Canny struck for Lockport. She took a touch around a defender near the 18 and blasted a shot inside the left-side post at 43 minutes for a 3-0 lead.
Physical play marked much of the second half. There were multiple stoppages for injured players from both teams who were helped off the field.
Norkett streaked in up the left side and fired high in the 74th minutes as the clock on the Redhawks’ season ticked away.
Adams was pleased with the way his girls handled the challenge of chasing a multiple-goal deficit to game’s end.
“Throughout the season and especially today when things were going wrong, they never turned on each other. They stayed together as a team,” Adams said. “They supported each other and represented their school the right way. The fact that as a unit, all 24 of them want to be there for each other, is a huge thing.”
After having a goal waved off earlier in the second half, Posmer got another bite at the apple in the 75th minute. She cleaned up a loose ball in Central’s goalmouth and scored the game’s final goal.
Besides her goal, Canny delivered both first half assists; Natalie Zodrow and Meaghan Mail had one apiece.
“Today was incredible. Everyone just played so good, and I'm so proud of everybody,” Canny said. “Our ball movement was incredible, and we were really good at just playing our game and not letting their play affect ours. We'll just continue to play our game, because it's worked for us so far.”
Elkei tipped his hat to his two center backs.
“Emma Czech and Brinlee McNabb did a really nice job,” Elkei said. “(Norkett) is a beast, and they did a good job on her.”
Norkett had nothing but good things to say about her final season as a Redhawk. Naperville Central will bid farewell to 12 seniors in Norkett, Betty Smith, Anna Sadowski, Ella Burke, Anna Ruggiero, Taylor Walk, Olivia Meyer, Alexandra Jonaitis, Annika Holba, Daly Dodsworth, Madison Hackett and Natalie Jordan.
“We had good team chemistry,” Norkett said. “We had a lot of pasta parties, which helped us a lot. It just didn't roll our way, and Lockport is a really great team. There's no shame in going out to them. They played great. It just didn't go our way today, and that's just soccer.
“I think Central is going to have a really good program coming up, because we have a lot of young players that stepped up big time this year. That's really special to have, and I'm just really proud of everyone.”
GK Erin Hackett
D Chloe Mowry
D Taylor Walk
D Anna Sadowski
D Ella Burke
MF Megan Norkett
MF Malia Shen
MF Rebecca Ruggiero
MF Nicole Smith
F Isabella Brozek
F Emma Russell
GK Elizabeth Rock
D Brinlee McNabb
D Emma Czech
D Alyssa Flood
MF Karolina Skubisz
MF Emma Verdon
MF Natalie Zodrow
MF Kaylin Klutcharch
MF Meghan Mack
F Bella Diorio
F Heather Canny
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Bella Diorio, sr., F, Lockport
Lockport — Diorio (Canny) 10 minutes
Lockport — Diorio (Canny) 13 minutes
Lockport — Canny (Natalie Zodrow) 43 minutes
Lockport — Megan Posmer (Meghan Mack) 74 minutes