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At brink of state tourney elimination, SCN's Stark reminds SCE it has its number

By Jared Birchfield, 05/28/23, 6:45PM CDT


Jr. forward ties game with 6.9 seconds left in regulation, scores deciding shootout goal

WEST CHICAGO -- Saturday’s Class 3A West Chicago Sectional championship will go down as one of the most epic battles in the annals of the St. Charles East–St. Charles North sports rivalry.

It will be a bittersweet memory for the Fighting Saints.

With 6.9 seconds left on the game clock, St. Charles North’s Laney Stark finally found a crack in St. Charles East’s defensive wall for an equalizer that forced the 1-1 contest into extra time.

The Saints quickly took a second lead 2-1 in the first 10-minute overtime on freshman Tatum Smith’s score. But once again, the North Stars knotted the match up, this time on Rian Spaulding’s close-in goal with 47 seconds left in the period.

A scoreless, second extra-time session moved the match into a shootout. St. Charles North (17-3-2) took its only lead and the game after making three PKs to St. Charles East’s one after four rounds to win a sectional crown for the first time since 2019.

St. Charles North advances to Tuesday’s Barrington Supersectional where the North Stars will tangle with the host Fillies for a berth in the state tournament Final Four.

Stark’s late-regulation goal was a heartbreaker for St. Charles East, which lost all three contests this season to its cross-town rival.

“We were a clearance away from getting through to the final eight, and you know the ball didn’t bounce our way,” St. Charles East coach Vince DiNuzzo said. “Laney hit a great shot. We kind of lost our mark there for a little bit, and she punished us. But I was proud of our effort.”

St. Charles East (20-4-0) keeper Sidney Lazenby (five saves) tried to clear the ball after
stopping a North Stars shot. Stark got there first and knocked it in.

The Saints rebounded from the devasting strike to regain the lead at the 2:59 mark of the first extra period. St. Charles North goalkeeper Kara Claussner came out of the net to catch a Saint’s shot from the sideline. The ball bounced behind her and rolled to the goal line to Smith, who tapped it in.

“In the first overtime, the momentum had shifted completely in their favor, and we came out and scored the first goal,” DiNuzzo said. “It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to see it get us to the second overtime at that score, but we had opportunities to win the game in regular time.”

St. Charles East started the penalty kick session. Both teams found the back of the net on the first round. In the second rotation, Claussner stopped the shot from St. Charles East’s Mackenzie Loomis, which was followed by Abby Vichich’s conversion. The Saints went down two after the third round when Alli Saviano’s shot bounced off the crossbar, and Stark converted.

Claussner, a Chicagoland Soccer co-MVP of the Match, clinched the PK competition by diving to her left to block Ella Stehman’s attempt.

The shootout added a new wrinkle to the North Stars’ season.

“We haven’t been in PKs once this year. Kara stepped up amazingly, and our shooters kept their composure,” St. Charles North coach Brian Harks said. “It was really fantastic.
Claussner (five saves) was ready for her close-up.”

“We work on them a lot in practice. It’s a big part of the game,” said the senior keeper. “I like to look at the way the players set up and go out to the ball. That dictates which side they’re going to, and I go that way and hope that I get there.”

Several factors must go right for a successful penalty kick, according to DiNuzzo.

“Penalties are a matter of finishing, getting some luck, guessing the right way and being able to read,” he said. “We just didn’t really execute that part of the game.”

Grace Williams gave St. Charles East the early lead.

She raced up the center of the pitch, took a cross from Mia Raschke and buried the ball into
the net from 10 yards in the eighth minute. It was her 29th goal of the season.

“I knew I wasn’t going to get very many chances today, so I knew that the chances I did get, I was going to have to put away,” Williams said. “So as soon as I saw Mia turn the girl, all I
wanted to do was just go straight toward the goal.”

The senior felt the grind of the high-pressure match finally got to the team.

“I definitely think that for a good chunk of the game, we dominated,” Williams said. “But even good teams get tired. We fell (mistakes) in the last couple of minutes, and they capitalized on it.”

DiNuzzo had to juggle his lineup.

Saints midfielder Saviano was recovering from an illness. She started the game but needed a substitute.

“Alli tried playing. She played 15 minutes in the first half and two minutes in the second half,” DiNuzzo stated “It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to play her more, but it is part of game, and you had to deal with it. Smith and Payton Rivard played in the midfield in her place.” 

The Saints coach also changed the team’s shape in the second half in an effort to slow down St. Charles North.

“We did move to 3-5-2 for much of the second half,” he said. “Lauren Salter stepped in at
outside back and (Amanda) Stepien went to corner back with (Lauren) Silvestri and Loomis.”

DiNuzzo praised senior Ella Stehman, a Chicagoland Soccer co-MVP of the Match, for her

“Ella had the responsibility of Laney (Stark) today, and I thought she did really well limiting
Stark’s opportunities,” the St. Charles East coach said. “She does so much: cuts out attacks; intercept passes; and builds out of the back. She’s just very good, and she doesn’t get enough credit.”

Barrington awaits St. Charles North. The Fillies have played a spoiler role in supersectional competition for both St. Charles teams’ efforts to advance to state in recent years. The Fillies knocked out the Saints in 2021 and 2022 tournaments and ended the season for the North Stars in 2019 and 2018. They will try to make their sixth Final Four in a row and eighth in the last 10 years on Tuesday.

Starting lineups

St. Charles East
GK: Sidney Lazenby
D: Lauren Silvestri
D: Mackenzie Loomis
D: Amanda Stepien
D: Ella Stehman
MF: Alli Saviano
MF: Tatum Smith
MF: Kara Machala
MF: Tia Bernstein
F: Grace Williams
F: Mia Raschke

St. Charles North
GK: Kara Claussner
D: Abby Sims
D: Chloe Kirsten
D: Lauren Balster
D: Abby Vichich
MF: Sophie Kirsten
MF: Juliana Park
MF: Kayla Floyd
F: Rian Spaulding
F: Bella Najera
F: Laney Stark

Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Kara Claussner, sr., GK, St. Charles North;
Ella Stehman, sr., D, St. Charles East

Scoring summary

First half
SCE: Grace Williams (Mia Raschke), 8th minute

Second half
SCN: Laney Stark, 80th minute

First overtime
SCE: Tatum Smith (Anika Dodrill), 82nd minute
SCN: Rian Spaulding, 89th minute

Second overtime
No scoring


SCE: Williams, goal; Loomis, saved; Alli Saviano, hit crossbar;  E. Stehman, saved
SCN: Bella Najera, goal; Abby Vichich, goal; Laney Stark, goal