GENEVA – The St. Charles North girls soccer team showed it has just about everything a team could want.
Deft distributing from midfielders such as Alex Gage. Slick finishes from Kelly Manski and Natalie Winkates. Strong team defense and goalkeeping.
And, by the way, the North Stars aren’t afraid of a collision. Defender Megan O’Leary weathered a pair of them as the North Stars held their ground throughout Tuesday night’s 2-0 Upstate Eight Conference River Division win against Geneva.
O’Leary sported a wince-worthy thigh bruise after a pair of jarring collisions, first with Geneva’s Mary Landry and later against the Vikings’ Courtney Lardas.
“I like to be physical,” O’Leary said. “I mean, I’m a defender. Center-backs have to be physical, they have to be good in the air. That’s pretty much my game.”
O’Leary was part of a North defense that yielded few scoring chances against the Vikings, even once the wind advantage swung Geneva’s way in the second half.
By then, North (8-1, 3-0 UEC River) was protecting a 2-0 lead.
The North Stars struck 10 minutes into the match when Manski, making a diagonal run, collected Gage’s feed and saw her shot from near the top of the box sneak just to the left of Vikings goalkeeper Sam Hauser.
“I was watching it roll into the corner, and I was hoping it would keep going instead of slowing up,” Manski said.
Then, midway through the first half, Winkates chased down a loose ball and was rewarded by banking the North Stars’ final goal of the night. Gage was credited with her second assist of the night on the play.
Geneva started the season 3-1, but Tuesday’s loss marked the fifth straight defeat for the Vikings (3-6, 0-2 UEC River) in an eight-day span.
The Vikings have played difficult competition during that span and also are without one of their top midfielders, Molly Axen, who has a sprained ankle.
“It’s hard,” Geneva senior forward Amanda Lulek said. “We’re not used to having this week of just not playing our best. It’s definitely hard to stay positive myself and keep the team going. As a senior and a captain … I know we have to keep everyone going, keep that positive mentality. At practice, we encourage each other. We’re keeping strong.”
The Iowa-bound Lulek is a dangerous scoring threat but she and her Geneva teammates up top found few worthwhile openings against the North Stars.
“Our team defense was incredible,” North coach Ruth Vostal said. “I was pleased with the number of offensive opportunities that we had. I think we need to finish on a few more of them but I was pleased with how many we created.”
Geneva has won at least a share of the conference title each of the past two years but the UEC River is looking increasingly like it will come down to St. Charles North and St. Charles East this spring. The St. Charles schools will meet next Tuesday at East.
Per usual, though, Vostal is de-emphasizing the conference race in favor of building toward another memorable postseason run. The North Stars return most of the group that finished as Class 3A state runners-up a year ago.
“I look at it as [Geneva is] a great team, and it’s another measuring point for us to see where we want to be at the end of the year,” Vostal said.