Girls soccer: Team effort lifts Neuqua Valley over Naperville Central
One might look at the girls soccer sectional seedings of Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central as cold, unbending numbers and think upset.
Yes, the ninth-seeded Wildcats beat the top-seeded Redhawks 3-1 to win the Class 3A Naperville Central regional on Friday.
The seeds give the feeling of upset. But this match was between two good teams with one left standing at the end with a championship plaque in its hands.
Neuqua (7-7-3) returns to Naperville Central on Tuesday for a sectional semifinal battle against Metea Valley. The Mustangs edged Plainfield North 3-2 also on Friday to capture the Metea regional title.
"This is so exciting. We all worked so hard and Central did so well," said Neuqua senior defender Maya Stone.
The title game was the final contest for Central coach Ed Watson who is retiring after 30 years at the helm.
Wildcats coach Joe Moreau said it was a team win from top to bottom.
"There was enthusiasm from the bench. All were in the game and ready to go in and contribute," he said. "This is a fighting group and things have clicked lately."
The wait for the first highlight of the match was not a long one. Freshman Selma Larbi put Neuqua on the scoreboard first just 20 seconds into the game on an approximately 15-yard shot
"It motivated the team and I was really excited," she said.
Larbi would not be done in the first half.
With 14:46 remaining and just one defender on her, she got off a 20-yard kick that made it 2-0 at intermission.
Larbi missed some time this season with an ankle injury and dealt with some confidence issues that she worked through.
"If my coaches and teammates have confidence in me, then I have confidence in myself," she said.
Central (15-3-1) had its scoring chances in the first half, but could not finish. It finally hit net with 20:11 left in the game courtesy of Sarah McCracken.
"It's a play that we practice all season. It was with my left foot. I was proud that I put it in top shelf," she said.
Just under seven minutes after McCracken's goal, Larbi went on a breakaway and got a shot off that was saved, but a rebound happened and Brianna Clasen put it away to make it 3-1.
Winning goalkeeper Zoe Fabian made three saves. Central goalkeeper Abby O'Connor made 10 in her final Redhawks game.
After Central's postgame meeting, Watson's thoughts were of this season's squad.
"It's a very talented group. They were good teammates to one another and they spend so many more minutes together than they play in games.
"We didn't get it done, but there was no give up,' he said.