Warriors fall to Naperville Central at North Central
By Matt Le Cren
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Veronica Ellis returned to action Wednesday night just seven months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL.
It didn’t take the Naperville Central junior midfielder long to make an impact.
Ellis headed home a cross from Abby Joyce at the 32:41 mark of the second half for what proved to be the game-winning goal as the Redhawks edged Waubonsie Valley 2-1 in the first game of a Breast Cancer Awareness Night doubleheader at North Central College. Naperville North blanked Neuqua Valley 2-0 in the second game.
Both of Naperville Central’s goals came on headers and allowed the Redhawks to rally from a 1-0 deficit and improve to 5-0 for the first time in school history.
“That second goal we got it down in the corner and Abby Joyce undressed the defender and then laid off a ball that the keeper couldn’t get,” Naperville Central coach Ed Watson said. “Then a nice little flick by ‘V.’”
Joyce, a sophomore forward, got around a Waubonsie Valley defender and took the ball to the right end line about three yards inside the penalty area before sending a high cross in tight to the Warriors goal. Ellis met it there and nodded it under the crossbar from three yards out.
“It got passed to Abby and I just made the run back side and I was shuffling between far post and near post, didn’t know exactly where she was going to put it,” said Ellis, an Indiana recruit. “Abby looked up and I saw her lift her head up and look for me and she played it right to me.”
The Redhawks had used similar precision to tie the game 1-1 at the 15:30 mark of the first half. Katherine Short sent a corner kick in front to senior Meredith McEniff, whose screaming header from eight yards out was ticketed for the top shelf.
Waubonsie Valley goalie Emma Rigby got a hand on the ball but couldn’t stop it, deflecting into the top of the net.
“Katherine hit a great corner and Meredith, she’ll attack the ball,” Watson said. “She’s pretty good in the air. She just absolutely attacks the ball.”
The goal was the team-leading third of the season for the Iowa-bound McEniff. Two have come on headers.
“I think it’s the power of the pass,” the Iowa-bound McEniff said of her success in the air. “I don’t really have to do much except kind of get a head on it. At practice we’ve been working a lot on free kicks and corner kicks and trying to get on the end of them and Katherine played a perfect ball and I was kind of not really marked in the middle and so I just kind of got on the end of it.”
The Warriors (2-1-1) had taken the lead 3:10 before McEniff’s score when Shannon Donelson scored from 10 yards out after a cross from Kristen Brots was deflected right to her. It was the only decent scoring chance for Waubonsie, which was outshot 16-6.
The Redhawks could have won more decisively if not for Rigby, a freshman who is part of the Olympic Development Program in her age group. At 5-4, Rigby is short for an elite goalie and teams try to exploit that by trying to shoot it over her head.
But Rigby knows that and relishes the challenge.
“It’s kind of fun because the high balls are one of my strengths actually,” said Rigby, who hopes to grow at least another couple of inches. “[Playing against the older girls] is really good experience actually because then it allows me to grow and as I get older I can be that much better because I’m used to the play.”
Rigby is plenty good already, as evidenced by the 10 saves she made against the Redhawks. She made several tremendous stops on the dangerous Short, who tested her with 30-yard rockets struck on the run.
“We saw Waubonsie play the night before and they tend to back up defensively instead of come at you, so we felt that there were going to be shot opportunities if they dropped,” Watson said. “They created our space by dropping and Katherine doesn’t have to be told twice to shoot. If it wasn’t for Rigby, the freshman keeper, she probably would have had three tonight. [Rigby] is phenomenal.”
Ultimately, the Warriors gave up a little too much ground a little too often, as Naperville Central was able to gain the upper hand in the midfield.
“They play a lot of kick and run because they’re really fast so we just didn’t have the accuracy that we usually do, so we kind of got outplayed in the midfield,” said Rigby, who notched her first career shutout Tuesday in a 1-0 decision over St. Charles East. “That was kind of our downfall.”
The Redhawks' downfall in recent years has been lack of scoring, but they are averaging two a game so far. With a solid defense led by Amanda Alberts and a great goalie in four-year starter Jill D’Amico, that has the team excited about its prospects.
“It’s an awesome finish to our [pre-spring break,” Ellis said.”We’ve got some experience under our belt for conference.”
I definitely think that we can challenge teams if we keep playing the way that we do,” McEniff said. “We’re all kind of playing as a team and that’s working out for us.”
The win, the first in three years for Naperville Central over the Warriors, was something of a defining moment for the Redhawks in the early going.
“I know this was our best test so far,” Watson said. “Plainfield North is a good team, but Waubonsie has a lot of good things going. [Warriors coach] Julie [Bergstrom] and her staff do a great job of teaching the girls how to play, and they’re young. I thought our girls played pretty well together.”
As for Ellis, her knee is 100 percent.
“It feels alright,” she said. “I’m a little tired. I’ve got to get back in shape.”