North Stars rally to beat Wisconsin's top-ranked team
By Darryl Mellema
It is getting harder and harder to fail to notice how good St. Charles North is this spring.
The North Stars typically fly under the radar in the early weeks of the season because they tend to start a couple of weeks after everyone else in Illinois.
So while some teams have played 13 or 14 matches so far, they only played their eighth on Saturday.
But match by match, the North Stars are turning in the kind of performances that make people stand up and take notice.
Saturday's result is going to as much as any to thrust St. Charles North into the limelight – a 2-1, come-from-behind victory over Divine Savior Holy Angels, a Brookfield, Wisconsin school that has won back-to-back state titles and is the top-rated team in Wisconsin this spring.
"We knew they were going to be a good team," North's Meryl Behm said. "They were in Iowa at the same tournament we played at last year. We knew who their big players were and we tried to stay with them."
The North Stars (8-0) used unconventional – for them – methods of securing the victory.
First they came from behind, which is unique because they had not trailed in their first seven games this season.
Second, they scored both goals following set pieces, which is not a method with which they are usually successful.
"When you go against a team you've never seen play, it comes down to a whole lot of hustle and a whole lot of effort," North coach Ruth Vostal said.
"Our second and third efforts were going to be key today. If you look at our set pieces – which we haven't been too successful on – we scored on two of them. But it was the second and third girl who were following up on it."
In the center of the field, players such as Behm and Kara Miller were everywhere trying to man-mark the Dashers' strongest players.
DSHA has college-bound stars including Rachael Koontz, who will play for Wisconsin this fall, and Kylie Nordness, who is headed to DePaul in August.
Nordness put the Dashers (3-1-2) ahead after 17 minutes when she put in a rebound.
Stung briefly, North had its offense beginning to move fluidly by halftime.
Six minutes before the break, Lauren Koehl shot over the crossbar. Just before halftime, Leah DeMoss had a sharp shot from a tight angle saved.
"We haven't been down a goal this whole season," North's Paige Dusek said. "That was a new adjustment for us. The last five minutes of the first half, the adrenaline started flowing and we started going as a team. We all knew we had to pick it up."
Coming from their halftime team talk, the North Stars began to address the imbalance in possession and territory.
Through the next 40 minutes, they managed to tip the balance decidedly in their favor.
"We didn't think we were playing badly in the first half," Behm said. "They just had that goal. So our goal was to keep with them and to keep passing and to keep working as a unit."
The North Stars began to use their superior speed early in the second half.
Six minutes after the restart, Sammy Gage released DeMoss, who shot into the side netting. DSHA responded and Dusek had to clear a Katie Klinger shot off the line.
But slowly, the battle of possession started to go in North's favor.
Thirteen minutes into the half, Alecia Natalie shot over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Natale, Dusek and DeMoss combined on a strong attacking move that earned a corner kick.
From that kick, the North Stars had two shots, one by Gage and the second by DeMoss. The first of those shots was saved and the second went out for a corner kick.
With 16 minutes to play, Dusek sent a left-sided corner kick into a crowded penalty area.
The ball was never cleared and hit a couple of different players before DeMoss got the crucial final touch and scored.
"I could tell the look on (DeMoss's) face when she went up that she was saying 'this is going in,'" Vostal said.
Three minutes later, the North Stars had a free kick near the left sideline 30 yards from goal.
Dusek sent the ball into the penalty area, which was again filled with players from both teams. Gage got a crucial header that sent the ball over the Dashers goalie.
DeMoss applied the finishing touch and the North Stars were ahead.
"It was really nice to execute (set pieces) in a game," DeMoss said. "We practice, every practice, on this. Normally, every time we get one in a game, it's like 'oh no.' But it's really nice, especially against a good team, to actually finish a set play."
With the lead and 12:43 to hold out, Vostal's instructions were to get everyone behind the ball when they were defending.
The funny thing was that the North Stars had played a fluid game positionally all match. DeMoss had played as a central defender at one point to provide extra depth to the defense.
Dusek played as a de facto right back for a time – while still ranging forward on either wing – all this from a player who can also play centrally in attack.
"Vostal knows where she likes people," Dusek said. "She scouts teams and knows where we need to put people in order to be successful. If that means putting me out wide, putting (Natale) out wide or putting Sam Gage at forward, then that's what we do.
"I feel like everyone on our team can play multiple positions and that helps us when that happens. We know the game well enough that we can play different positions."
That 'all hands to the pump' philosophy helped the North Stars close the contest and preserve their victory.
"If it takes all of us behind the ball and all of us playing defense, then that's what we're going to do," DeMoss said. "A win's a win."
The season still has three weeks of the regular season remaining and, in that time, the North Stars have some massive games.
First is Tuesday's Upstate Eight tile with Neuqua Valley. Next weekend, they travel to Burlington, Iowa for the Brine Tournament. On May 4, North faces Waubonsie Valley in a match that could decide the destination of the Upstate Eight trophy this year.
Still, Saturday's match was an important one.
"This game today will help us prepare for those games," Behm said. "We're going to have tough games one after the other, and (DSHA) gave us a tough game. I think we'll be ready."
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