After filling both hands with regional championships the past 10 years, St. Charles North's girls soccer team can now start adding to the count with its toes.
Showing balanced offensive punch and steady defensive play, the North Stars (17-3-1) earned their 11th consecutive regional title with a convincing 5-1 triumph over ninth-seeded West Chicago Saturday afternoon in DeKalb.
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With the win, the top-seeded North Stars advance to Tuesday's Hoffman Estates Class 3A sectional semifinals against No. 4 Conant, which defeated South Elgin 2-0 to win Friday's regional crown at Conant.
In similar fashion to last Wednesday's 5-1 regional semifinal win over DeKalb, St. Charles North wasted little time taking charge, as senior midfielder Alex Gage got the North Stars on the board less than 5 minutes into the action off a corner kick from Alyssa Brandt.
"Getting on the board early is so important because it just gives us that spark," said Gage, who needed 24 stitches to close a gash above her right eye following a match earlier this month. "Once we get that goal, everyone is excited to play."
Grabbing an early lead can serve as both a momentum builder and a muscle relaxer.
"You get a rush of confidence but it's also like we can play calm now," added Gage. "We can settle the ball. We don't need to be frantic and score because we have a goal and just be confident in our play."
St. Charles North did most of its offensive damage later in the first half, receiving 3 goals from 3 different players during a 17-minute span.
Natalie Winkates' header off a crossing feed from Kelly Manski made it 2-0 midway through the first half, and Brandt made a nifty move in front of the goal to beat Wildcats keeper Gaby Navejas and up the lead to 3-0.
Less than 4 minutes later, sophomore Hanna Durocher connected on a 1-time blast from 20 yards out to give the North Stars a 4-0 halftime advantage.
"I thought we created a ton of offensive chances," said North Stars coach Ruth Vostal, who has guided the program to a pair of state runner-up finishes over the past 9 seasons. "It's so awesome to see different goal scorers stepping up."
West Chicago, which rallied for 2 goals during a 30-second span in the last 3 minutes to upset eighth-seeded Schaumburg in Wednesday's regional semifinals, snapped the North Stars' shutout bid with freshman Maddie Aguilar's goal in the 73rd minute.
"Our second half was much better," said Wildcats coach J Cesar Gomez. "We kept pushing."
So did the North Stars, as junior Rachel Michieli delivered a 30-yard blast that found the top shelf of the net nearly a minute after the Wildcats' tally and completed the day's scoring.
"We have been working on our mental game a lot and I was pleased with it (today)," said Vostal. "Even after they scored that goal, we found a way to get another goal.
"We don't like to give up a goal but if we do it's nice to see someone step up and score," added Vostal. "And that was an unbelievable goal."
Eight seniors played their final prep match for the Wildcats (11-10-3).
"We panicked at the beginning," said Gomez. "They're much better than we are but I thought it was a great run for us. I'm so proud of them."