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Game story: Naperville North’s late goal tops stubborn St. Francis

By Matt Le Cren, 04/07/24, 11:30AM CDT


Wilson’s 79th-minute game-winner ends Huskies' anxiety, produces 1-0 win

NAPERVILLE – When Naperville North junior midfielder Kelly Wilson rose up and headed home a cross from Rachael Noren, it provoked celebration from her teammates.

But far more sighs of relief.

“It felt really great,” Wilson said. “I mean, we needed it. It was a struggle out there.”

Wilson’s goal, which came with 1:45 remaining in the second half, was the breakthrough the host Huskies had been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for in their 1-0 victory over St. Francis on Saturday in the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic.

Naperville North (5-1-1), which is ranked seventh in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, recorded its fifth-consecutive shutout and outshot the underdog Spartans 27-5 in a dazzling display of possession.

But finishing off St. Francis (1-2-1) proved to be frustratingly difficult. St. Francis goalkeeper Kennedy Karl, who stands 5-foot-1 1/2, had the best game of her prep career, coming up with 13 saves, many of which came against Naperville North star and all-stater Claire DeCook.

Karl dove to her right to stop DeCook on a penalty kick in the 17th minute and twice charged out of the net to deny DeCook on breakaways in the second half.

“She was so good,” Karl said of DeCook. “It was insane.

“It was so hard trying to defend her, but I pushed through. The team did amazing. The defense held their ground.”

Indeed, Karl got plenty of help from defenders Alyssa Suriano, Harlee Duraski, Maice Schweimer, Maeve McGinn and Elle Wainscott, a Northern Illinois early commit, who had their hands full for most of the 80 minutes. Wainscott was especially stout at centerback, blocking several shots and clearing two balls off the line.

“We just held our head high,” Karl said. “We kind of realized with the team we were playing that we needed to boot the ball out, and we did that.”

Despite her size, Karl stood tall, even on high shots. In the 11th minute, North’s Emily Buescher sent a corner kick in from the right side to Reagan O’Malley, whose header seemed ticketed for the back of the net until Karl knocked it up into the crossbar, and Wainscott cleared it.

“Kennedy played awesome today,” St. Francis assistant coach Amy Winslow said. “She just played the mental game and just stayed in it today.

“I think every save she made was quality, and it boosted her confidence.”

The Spartans also had another thing working in their favor. They still remember the 7-0 loss the Huskies pinned on them at this tournament last year.

“I think we were just pretty angry about last year,” Karl said. “We knew we needed to be more aggressive.”

Winslow was pleased to see the response.

“We battled,” Winslow said. “I think the biggest thing for us is that every game we’ve gotten more physical, which is important for us.

“That allows us to be in games, especially against the bigger teams like this.”

Yet the effort didn’t prevent the Huskies from controlling the action. St. Francis had only a couple of good scoring chances that Naperville North goalkeeper Olivia Ochsner, who finished with four saves, dispatched.

In the 32nd minute, Ochsner made a diving save on Paige Chrustowski’s 42-yard free kick near the left post but couldn’t hang on to the ball. Wainscott intercepted the failed clearing attempt just in front of the right post, but Ochsner quickly scrambled back and made a point-blank save.

Chrustowski, a two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List honoree and Austin Peay recruit, had another chance midway through the second half, but Ochsner again made a diving stop.

Other than that, it was all Huskies, whose attack gradually picked up steam and organization after intermission.

“We didn’t play great,” Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said. “It was a little bit disappointing how we came out.

“Our effort wasn’t great in the first half. We were just kind of going through the motions. You’ve got to replicate good performances game after game.”

And that includes against tough Class AA schools.

“St. Francis is a good team,” Goletz said. “They’re organized. Their goalkeeper played good today, but we also made her look really good at times by shooting balls straight at her.”

Not all of the Huskies shots were right at Karl, who cut down the angles on plays, especially when DeCook got past the defense or turned the corner.

DeCook took 14 shots, the vast majority of which were on frame. That she came up empty was astounding considering she already has five goals on the season, including both in the tournament-opening 2-0 win over Libertyville on Thursday.

“Today wasn’t Claire’s day in terms of finding the back of the net, but she gave herself many opportunities,” Goletz said. “You’ve just got to hope that some of those fall on different days.”

As attempts kept being denied, the frustration grew amongst the Huskies, for whom a tie would have been considered both a disappointment and a serious blow to their chances of advancing out of the group stage.

“As the game continues to stay 0-0, the pressure continues to mount on the kids, and they start forcing it more,” Goletz said. “But I was proud of the way they bounced back in the second half.

“They continued to battle and fight. We were better soccer-wise in the second half, but you’ve got to tip your hat to St. Francis.

“They played hard. They were great defensively and their goalkeeper, God, how many saves did she make today?”

Too many for Noren’s liking.

“We had chances the whole game,” Noren said. “We were on their half the entire game, so we really had to grind through.

“Our shots weren’t going in so we just had to keep taking shots on goal and not hang our heads.”

Wilson didn’t hang hers. Instead, she used it to score her second varsity goal, and first game-winner.

Noren dribbled into the right side of the box and sent a cross in front to where she knew a teammate was supposed to be.

“Every practice, we practice our runs into the box and getting into the box, because we’re not going to get chances if we’re not all in the box,” Noren said. “I just drove endline, took her on and then crossed it.

“Somebody’s always supposed to get to that spot at the top of the box so I was just hoping somebody was making that run. Kelly made the run all the way from the half line and knocked it in.”

For Wilson, it was a simple task.

“I sprinted just as far as I could as hard as I could,” Wilson said. “And I just found the ball and headed it in. It feels really great.”

Noren was happy to see Wilson be rewarded.

“Her hard work paid off,” Noren said. “It’ll make her more motivated to make that run every time. Getting that reward out of it will really help our team know how important that run is.”

Goletz was glad to see Wilson producing.

“Kelly is awesome,” Goletz said. “She’s been a great addition to the team.

“She plays so hard. She was super sick the first week of the season and has now integrated herself into the team. She’s a joy to have on the team.”

The Huskies will host ninth-ranked Evanston (6-0) at 5 p.m. Monday. North would clinch Group B with a win and advance to Thursday’s tournament semifinals.

For St. Francis to advance, it will have to upset Libertyville on Monday and Evanston on Wednesday and hope Evanston beats the Huskies.

Regardless of what happens, Karl is encouraged by Saturday’s performance.

“We definitely did really good,” Karl said. “That’s probably one of the best games I’ve ever seen this team play, especially with how we lost to them last year.

“We definitely brought our A game to this.”

Starting lineups

St. Francis
GK: Kennedy Karl
D: Alyssa Suriano
D: Harlee Duraski
D: Maicie Schweimer
D: Maeve McGinn
D: Elle Wainscott
M: Olivia Basel
M: Caroline Kiesler
M: Clare Andrzejewski
F: Ellie Bielenda
F: Paige Chrustowski
Naperville North
GK: Olivia Ochsner
D: Lily Radek
D: Abby Penn
D: Reagan O’Malley
D: Emily Buescher
M: Audrey Hartmann
M: Kelly Wilson
M: Jacey Sturek
F: Annie Chang
F: Rachael Noren
F: Claire DeCook
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Kennedy Karl, jr., GK, St. Francis

Scoring summary

First half
No scoring
Second half
Naperville North: Kelly Wilson (Rachael Noren), 79’