North Stars cap special season with exciting win in third place match
By Darryl Mellema
As they walked together from the center of the field one last time, St. Charles North's girls soccer team was distinctive from most teams in a few ways.
First, the North Stars had a trophy to carry, with those duties capably carried out by Alyssa Peterson and Leah DeMoss, two of the team's captains and among the many reasons the team was carrying a third-place trophy from the field at North Central College.
The North Stars also lingered with each other for a long time, first at the edge of the field as they heard from head coach Ruth Vostal one final time this season and then outside Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, where they talked with friends and family before finally parting.
High schools are made of many small communities of students, and athletic teams like the girls soccer North Stars are one of those 'schools within the school.'
And the thing about the girls soccer team was that it allowed the Class of 2010 to remain in high school a week longer than their classmates.
Graduation was a week ago so Saturday's 3-2 penalty kick victory over Glenbrook South at the end of 80 scoreless minutes of play finally ended the high school experience for 11 players and their manager, injured star Maggie Hamilton.
"We extended it as long as we could," senior Maryl Behm said. "We could play all year round, we want to play year-round with this team. But it's high school and we can't.
"But I will always, always remember my teammates. I'm going to go and play college soccer, but I will never have the bonds I have with these teammates. We played as many games together as we could, so I'm proud of what we did."
St. Charles North traditionally begins its season later than most schools and this year, the team's first match was played on April 3. On that same date, Glenbrook South (24-6-4) was playing its fifth match of the campaign.
But the time prior to the start of game play is spent not only in training but in team bonding, and those bonds showed their strength on Saturday.
"It's not really about where you start or where you end up ranking-wise," senior goalkeeper Kristen Manski said. "It's all about the journey and the ups and the downs. That's something no one can take away from us.
"All the experiences we've had, good and bad, most of them good or the best friends that I've made or being able to play with my little sister (sophomore defender Lisa Manski). That's all so awesome and it all means so much to me."
The season ended on a high note and the shootout win gave the North Stars a 23-2-1 record with the win total marking the most in school history. The third-place trophy was the team's second in 10 years of play. The 2004 squad finished second to New Trier.
"The coaches have definitely said this is the most talented number of players we've had on this team," senior midfielder Alyssa Peterson said.
"Just to be part of the St. Charles North legacy of being one of the two teams to get here to state means something. We're getting e-mails from people all over the town of St. Charles, saying they are proud of us."
Along the way, the North Stars transcended an existence as just a collection of players performing as a team for their school.
"We became a family," senior defender Kara Miller said. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we pick up for each other. We are 22 people deep. For some of us, it's last game ever.
"For us seniors, it's the last time we will ever play for this team. It's just an awesome thing to feel, that we are part of this great team that's become a family."
A day after losing 4-2 to Sandburg and allowing twice the largest number of goals they had let up in any match, St. Charles North's defense was back to its stingy best.
While it is true that Glenbrook South wasn't the same without 43-goal scorer Jannelle Flaws, who injured her knee in the Titans' semifinal loss to eventual state champion Waubonsie Valley, the North Stars still worked to keep the Titans from having many clear-cut chances.
Behm had to clear a shot off the line after 25 minutes and Manski had to keep alert in the North Stars goal. Overall, the defense did its job in limiting possession and opportunities.
"(Kaitlyn) Batka, Lisa (Manski) and (Behm) at stopper, I can always rely on them," defender Kara Miller said. "We worked well together. They were always supporting.
"If something gets by you, you know (Manski) will clean it up. And Batka goes into tackles hard every time. I'm proud of them. They're excellent and they do their job well."
It took the North Stars time to get into gear offensively. When a lightning delay extended halftime, the team had a chance to regroup some.
"I think people assumed there was going to be less pressure because since it wasn't for the championship," Peterson said. "But there was just as much pressure because there's only one team that's going to win.
"We kept looking to see where we could get that fire like we had in the second half of yesterday's game. I think we finally got it in the second half tonight."
Behm hit the crossbar five minutes into the match, the best clear-cut scoring chance of the game for St. Charles North. At the same time, the North Stars slowly began to take control of the match.
A goal line clearance by Behm marked the last time the defense had to scramble a ball to safety. And with the North Stars keeping possession throughout most of the second half, the team recorded its 15th shutout.
"They didn't score and that's all you can ask for," Miler said. "I'm proud of us. I'm proud of our defense – and I'm proud of our offense. We had our chances. We didn't score but we had chances."
With a lightning delay already having pushed back the end of the match by nearly an hour, the IHSA dispensed with its usual overtimes and moved the match straight to a shootout.
Here the star was Manski, who watched as two shooters missed, got her hands on a shot that still went into the net – and then made the key save on the fifth shot that earned her team the victory.
"For the past couple of months, we've been taking PK's in practice," Manski said. "My coaches taught me different ways to tell where they were going to shoot by the way they aligned their hips, the number of steps they take to the side or if they're a right-footed kicker – all of that."
Manski's save brought her own senior season to a close.
"It's not like I care about being the hero or having the attention of anything like that," Manski said. "I just want to do whatever I can to help my team to put us in the best place. I feel pretty satisfied that I fulfilled my role today."
With graduation over, the North Stars seniors have led a very soccer-oriented lifestyle.
"We've been focused," Miller said. "We had a curfew and we had our team pasta dinners and did everything we could to stay focused. We didn't let any distractions bother us and we kept going for our goal."
Not that the North Stars complained about that way of life as they defeated Barrington in the Barrington Super-Sectional and then played their matches in the state finals.
In Friday's semifinals, Sandburg's Carson Moesle scored three goals following corner kicks from Nakita Jhanji to help Sandburg jump out to a 3-0 lead at the break.
DeMoss and Sammy Gage scored late goals but it wasn't enough to help the North Stars advance to the state championship match, so they set their sights on the next-best prize.
"It's been eat-sleep-soccer," Manski said. "All of our friends are going out doing stuff. But we all said 'we have something bigger and better to focus on.'"
And as they posed for pictures with the third place trophy, it was clear that all that focus had been put to good use. And then they lingered before finally parting and bringing their very successful season to a close.
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