Blackhawks can't overcome slow start against Glenbard North
CLICK HERE FOR GAME PHOTOS
By Darryl Mellema
If West Aurora had never started a match slowly and then come on incredibly strong after falling behind, its match at Glenbard North would have been frustrating enough.
But the Blackhawks have seen this pattern repeated time and again, as was the case on Thursday in Carol Stream.
What's even more maddening is that the team seemed to have dug itself an insurmountable hole in its DuPage Valley Conference matchup with the Panthers, then nearly rescued itself with a stirring comeback.
West Aurora fell behind 3-0 then rallied to only trail 3-2, but that's where the score stood at the final whistle, a loss that drops the Blackhawks to 3-14-2 for the season and 0-5 in the DVC.
"We're a totally different team," West Aurora coach Laura Wagley said. "We get down by one, two or three and then I look out there and say 'there is my team.'
"We seem to finish strong, but we do not start how we finish. We are our own worst enemy right now, and we have been the whole season."
Glenbard North slowly built its advantage. The first goal came 15 minutes in on a free kick 30 yards from goal. Kelly Sprague hammered that shot over West Aurora's wall into the net.
Jessica Kras doubled the Panthers' lead six minutes before halftime when she put in a shot from a tight angle on the right wing.
"Sometimes I get a little upset because we're out of it and not ready to play on the field," keeper Brianna Burkett said. "After a while, we get in it, but it bothers me.
"I feel like we're not a first half team. We are a second half and we play way better in the second half. But I wish we'd be able to play right away, when we get here."
The pattern of Glenbard North domination continued in the opening minutes of the second half, until Ashley Pittman broke free from the Blackhawks in the midfield, raced onto a long ball and put the Panthers ahead 3-0.
What was lacking through those opening 50 minutes of play was basic West Aurora possession.
The visitors gave away the ball repeatedly, allowing Glenbard North time and space to find openings – which they did.
"I always tell my team that soccer's the easiest game there is," Wagley said. "All we need to do is possess the ball and make the other team work.
"We're good at that in practice but we cannot carry it over into a game until we get behind one or two goals and we get frustrated."
Behind by three goals, West Aurora began to move sharply into attack, and it was rewarded with a penalty kick after a foul in the penalty area with 24 minutes to play.
Jessica Saffell shot to the left and scored off Glenbard North goalie's hands.
"Yet again, we started out slow and we suffered for it in the second half," Saffell said. "Toward the end, we pushed hard and got two goals."
Saffell has been her team's most consistent scorer this season, and she showed why when she put the ball in the net from distance and at a tough angle.
"I like to dribble it and beat defenders one-on-one," Saffell said. "When they draw near, I look for my forwards out wide and through the defense."
Although only a sophomore, Saffell is showing the sort of scoring success that will get college coaches interested.
Wagley has already let her alma mater, Aurora University, know how good she is.
"She is only getting better," Wagley said. "She has the desire to play soccer. She is a soccer player year-round. She wants to be out here and she wants to help her teammates.
"She just wants us to get better. Even if we lose, she still wants us to get better as a team."
West Aurora's other shining star on Thursday was goalkeeper Brianna Burkett, who made some sharp saves.
None of these was bigger than her point-blank save from a blistering Gianna Huspen shot with four minutes left in the first half.
"She definitely kept us in the game," Wagley said. "I think that kind of boosted our morale as well. Everyone saw that the keeper was in the game and she was putting everything on the line."
Burkett's strong reactions and bravery helped keep the score from becoming unreachable.
"All I really want to do is go out and try my hardest and try to save it for the team," Burkett said.
"If they mess up, I want to have their back. I want them to trust me and I want to be their goalie. So I give it my all in every game."
And as the rally took shape, those heroics became more and more important, even though West Aurora was never able to fully rescue the match.
"Sometimes it's not their fault," Burkett said. "Sometimes it is and you've got to make some cover ups for them. Once we get it in our mentality that we want to win, we're a totally different team."
As familiar a pattern as West Aurora showed in falling behind and then rallying, Glenbard North (5-10-1, 1-5) has seen a series of leads slip this season, as well.
"That has been our M.O. this season," Glenbard North coach Dave Stanfield said. "We have played some good soccer against the tougher teams.
"Give credit to (West Aurora.) They really pushed us hard. We don't do well in those situations."
In coming back, the Blackhawks did so against a decent team, regardless of its record. Glenbard North lost 1-0 to Wheaton North, 2-1 to Wheaton-Warrenville South and 2-0 against Naperville North.
"We played well in all those games," Stanfield said. "I'm pleased we got it tonight. We had to dig deep. (West Aurora) played really hard."
CLICK TO SEE BLACKHAWKS' TEAM PAGE
CLICK TO SEE BLACKHAWKS' PHOTO PAGE