In one of the area's silliest girls soccer traditions that makes a serious point, St. Charles North every year takes a plastic toy, dubs it the award for the team's player of the match -- and then players go about decorating this toy through the season as it moves from player to player.
A year ago, the toy was a plastic lawn mower. This year, the players are decorating a plastic yellow school bus. And Tuesday, the award went to a player who's made the wheels go round and round for the North Stars for four years and kept the team motoring through a 2-0 Upstate Eight River Conference Division victory over Geneva: Kelly Manski.
Manski also made the people in the stands go up and down when she opened the scoring 10 minutes into the match, latching onto a loose ball at the top of the penalty area before hitting a lot shot into the goal at the left post.
"There was a lot of energy out there," Manski said. "Everyone had it. We were just ready to play this game. We came out strong."
Normally a wide player. Manski also drifted infield as the North Stars showed a variety of different personnel combinations to the Vikings. She struck her goal from the center of the field.
"I feel like we're all working really well together and each game, we're improving," Manski said.
Natalie Winkates doubled St. Charles North's lead in the 20th minute of the match when she caught Geneva's defense flat and ran onto a through ball and scored.
"She's one of those people who does a lot of the dirty work and has that second assist, that type of thing," St. Charles North coach Ruth Vostal said. "But she's the kind of player who can dominate the midfield."
The North Stars (8-1, 3-0) dominated for large stretches of the match and had a wide margin in scoring chances. But from Winkates' goal, the teams played 60 minutes of scoreless soccer.
"I think we're settling in," Vostal said. "Today, I think there were some different players who stepped up. Kelly Manski, she's been playing great. But she was all over the field, so it might have looked different. We still have a lot of great players we are trying to rotate through this formation so we have fresh legs all the time."
Geneva (3-6, 0-2) had few chances -- the best came 10 minutes from halftime when Amanda Lulek came up the right wing and forced a save from Shelby Stitz.
"What we talked about after is that we played the best game that we've played," Lulek said. "We came out hard and we came out like we wanted this game. That's what we've been working on. The score doesn't show it, but we came out and played hard and left it all on the field."
But the Vikings also battled for 80 minutes -- a match-long effort of the kind coach Megan Owens said she was looking for during the team's matches in the St. Charles Invitational.
"We didn't get the result we wanted, but I felt we were more than competitive," Owens said. "To play a team like North's caliber the way we did, to keep the pressure on them as we did in the first half into the wind -- I think it's the best we've played all season."
Through Manski's goal and beyond, the Vikings were more than competitive in the match.
"The score doesn't show it, and we had two moments where we checked out, but I think we played phenomenal," Owens said. "I think we dictated the pace of the play most of the time. It was a great game."
The Geneva-St. Charles North rivalry has been very intense in recent years, and Tuesday's match was no exception. There were plenty of strong tackles, and two yellow cards were shown. But the match was also the setting for a high level of intensity as well.