Najera's hat trick lifts St. Charles North to win season opener

Updated 3/14/2023 9:53 PM

Bella Najera, fittingly, began the season the only way she knew how.

For the reigning DuKane Conference Player of the Year, that's with goals.


Najera, the St. Charles North senior striker and Michigan State recruit, didn't take long to rip off a three-goal start to her individual season in the North Stars' 4-0 season-opening win over Crystal Lake Central on Tuesday.

After a dominating 19-goal effort last year, Najera is again ready for one final stretch run for the North Stars, who could eventually vie for a 20th consecutive regional title in May.

Last season's heartbreaking loss to St. Charles East in the sectional final perhaps hangs in the background, but until another potential chance to breakthrough, Najera is soaking up the moment.

"Obviously, with the last season, I'm trying to make it the best," Najera said. "The ending of last season, I wasn't too happy with, so obviously, I want to come back and make the most out of it, have fun and work hard."

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Najera popped in her first goal on an assist from Laney Stark with just over 10 minutes gone in the first half. The North Stars (1-0) took the one-goal lead into the break, but Najera connected on a penalty kick opportunity and finished the hat trick with a score through traffic with 22 minutes left in the second half to cap off her evening.

Lauren Balster later connected on a corner kick feed from Kaitlin Glenn two minutes later to finish off Crystal Lake Central (0-1).

"She's a competitor," North Stars coach Brian Harks said. "She gets it, whether it's a Saturday morning practice or a Friday night game under the lights, she's got one speed. She's always dialed-in; she's always engaged and she's the type of player that makes the people around her better as well, which is an awesome attribute to have."

St. Charles North projects to have a deep postseason run, returning eight players with at least three years of varsity experience.

Add in Bartlett High School transfer junior Laney Stark, it's yet another high-quality piece to the mix.

Stark, who just finished a busy basketball season, assisted on Najera's first goal and forced the penalty in the CLC box to set up the penalty kick chance. Stark even narrowly missed her first North Stars career goal as the first half came to a close off the left post.


"It's a lot of getting to know the girls and learning how they play," Stark said on the quick transition. "Just getting in shape. I like the fast style of play and having Bella out there to help, so it's nice."

Adjusting to a more tempo-controlled and direct-pass system is the most notable aspect, but Stark -- with her speed -- appeared to have little trouble finding moments to spark the run of play.

"She makes a lot of runs," Najera said. "So, If I look up and I see her running, obviously I can count on her to get it into the box as well."

"[Stark] did a fantastic job on the outside. She brings a real positive energy and she's a workhorse. She generates turnovers and she puts some really quality crosses in that her teammates did a nice job of getting on the end of tonight," Harks said.

Crystal Lake Central, meanwhile, is coming off a sectional final appearance in Class 2A and a Fox Valley Conference title last season.

"Obviously, first game of the season. It's a tough one to have that score line, but there were a lot of positive things in the [game]," coach Sarah Fack said. "This is one of the toughest teams on our schedule, so there's a lot of things [that] we're going to learn from this. There were spurts of some really great play. We had some really good opportunities."

"This year, we're really junior-heavy because we had a lot of sophomores last year. So, we return a ton of players. Overall, we've got our corps and it's really just learning from here [and] figuring things out, especially [because] we have a lot of upperclassmen. It's figuring out some of those final pieces; some of the little things that didn't quite fall in place today."

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