Sometimes the team with the most talent loses.
In the rare case of Naperville North -- without question the most talented high school soccer team assembled in Illinois -- it got better as the season progressed and culminated with a Class 3A championship last Saturday at North Central College.
One look at the Huskies' roster and name after name stand out as the Huskies truly boast a collection of superstars, many of whom will play at the next level.
One such player, senior Christa Szalach, exemplified what it means to be a leader. She dominated the midfield all season, helping the Huskies to an undefeated 22-0-2 season, which ended with 17 straight victories.
For her actions on and of the field, Szalach is captain of the 2013 DuPage County All-Area girls soccer team.
"I think she's a true captain in every sense of the word," Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said. "She leads by example everyday in practice and in games and she holds herself and the team to a super high standard."
Szalach was able to adapt and serve whatever role the team needed from her. Early on, the Huskies were without Zoe Swift, the 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year, so Szalach looked to contribute significantly during restarts and in getting the ball in forward Abbie Boswell's direction.
Naperville North went 6-0-2 before Swift returned on April 16 at Metea Valley, a match which the Huskies not only won but dominated. Swift scored twice and had 3 assists, Boswell scored and Szalach had a pair of goals and an assist.
"You just learn to adjust and adapt to the situation and I think these are the kinds of things that help you grow as a team," Szalach said. "The thing is we all work as a group, not as individuals, and I think we were at a point then that we were working on enhancing our game and doing whatever we needed to do in order to win."
While Szalach's athleticism helped her stand out, one could argue that her knowledge of the game helped her make an even bigger impact.
"She is a super smart soccer player with a great soccer IQ," Goletz said. "If I need her to fit into a space, she does it with open arms, or if I need her to go forward against a team and we can take advantage, she does it. She's super versatile and willing to do whatever it takes, so she's pretty much a coach's dream."
While her role as a midfielder might be less glamorous than that of Boswell and Swift up top, it's right where she wants to be. Plus, she still proved to be a very dangerous scoring threat, especially on restarts, finishing with 13 goals and 5 assists.
"It's one of those positions where I'm not really motivated for the scoring, but it's awesome to know that I can be a part of the play and get it started for the front line," she said. "I think that can be just as rewarding as scoring, although sometimes it's nice to get a goal and do what the forwards are doing. I just like making a good pass and distributing to the line above me and let them do their thing."
Their thing was scoring, and they even did it against the other top teams in the state. They scored twice against both Waubonsie Valley and Buffalo Grove, two teams that combined for 44 wins in 2013. They netted 3 against rival Naperville North as well as Plainfield North (21-4).
"Sometimes I didn't think I was that big of an impact on our success being center midfield," Szalach said. "In the past I think I sometimes hung back too far or didn't push forward enough. I think this year I did a better job of getting into those offensive scoring positions to score or pass the ball off and allow a play to develop."
As much as she leads by her actions on the field, Szalach also can be vocal, which ties directly into her being a student of the game with superb knowledge of the sport.
"Even when I'm the bench I can be pretty vocal," she said. "If I think something is happening that needs to be communicated, I'll let them know."
The Huskies ended the season with a 35-game unbeaten streak, but Szalach and a huge chunk of the roster won't be back next year to continue the streak as they graduated 11 seniors, including more than a half dozen who played on all three state finalist squads.
"I definitely love the game of soccer and high school is my favorite season to play so I'll definitely miss it," Szalach said. "But Purdue is a good fit for me. I like the coaches and I like the style of play -- it's more possession-based then kick and run, and academically it's one of the few schools that specialize in public relations, so that was big for me."
One thing that doesn't need any better PR is Naperville North girls soccer -- a program that's gone 46-1-3 the last two seasons.
"This is just a special group of kids and it takes that to make it to three state finals and to win back-to-back," Goletz said. "I've honestly gotten more compliments about the kids because of what they're doing off the field. I couldn't be more proud of them."