Neuqua Valley girls soccer players and coaches can point to a few reasons for their April turnaround.
Wheaton Warrenville South saw all of them working in Thursday night's Naperville Invitational game at Naperville Central, a 3-1 Neuqua Valley win.
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Possibly it's just the Wildcats (6-4-2) beginning to integrate their freshmen and sophomores into the lineup after struggling against tough early-season competition.
"We were off to a rough start definitely, but each game we're improving and learning from our mistakes and we're just playing as a team now," Wildcats senior Katie Ciesiulka said after her team's sixth consecutive victory.
Ciesiulka has improved also, working on staying forward when shooting, and that paid off with a pair of goals against the Tigers (5-5) to give her a team-leading 5 on the season.
"Katie's been playing well," said Wildcats coach Joe Moreau. "She's had a pretty good week of goal scoring."
That might have something to do with the new formation the Wildcats are playing recently, going to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield from a 4-1-4-1.
"I'm in more of an attacking position this year as opposed to last year, so I definitely need to get up in the attack more," Ciesiulka said.
"She's our best player," Moreau added. "She's also taking a major leadership role. At halftime she's over there talking while (the coaches) are walking over. Katie's a quiet kid, but she's embracing that senior leadership."
The Wildcats struck in the 11th minute on Allie Fullreide's goal off a Kiley Czerwinski cross from the right side.
"Allowing the first goal did more damage than just the goal itself," Tigers coach Guy Callipari said. "I think it really put us on our heels mentally. Some doubt began to settle in a little bit. You could see we were really on our heels and we didn't play as aggressively as we should have."
Ciesiuka made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute with a shot to the far post from just outside the right corner of the Tigers' penalty area.
"On the second goal we allowed her to look up, look down, look up, serve it and find the back of the net without any pressure at all and we're in a position where we're so hesitant about the open space behind us and we have to have a presence on the ball," Callipari said.
Ciesiulka scored again in the 46th, finishing off Czerwinski's through ball.
"Kiley's ball on the second goal was just incredible. It was just an easy finish," Ciesiulka said.
The Tigers had a number of chances in the first half. Those chances dried up somewhat in the second, but they did still have a couple. Caroline Holmes nearly scored in the 65th minute, but her shot hit the left post. Tigers senior Marina Tolczyk found the net in the 78th minute.
"They definitely kept us working hard and we had to connect a lot to feet and play quickly. They were really aggressive," Ciesiulka said.
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