Girls soccer: St. Charles North tops WW South for Pepsi title
Whether they are on the biggest stage or merely practicing with no one watching, Hailey Rydberg and Gia Wahlberg have the same approach to soccer.
The St. Charles North seniors are always ready to play at their highest level.
"It's a testament to them," St. Charles North coach Brian Harks said. "It's not that they show up to play big games.
"They just show up to play, period, whether it's a Wednesday practice or a Sunday Pepsi championship. Their approach is the same and that's a major reason why we're having the success we're having this season."
Rydberg and Wahlberg were at it again Sunday. Both scored goals in the second minute of the PepsiCo Showdown championship game at Lyons Soccer Complex and the North Stars held off a late rally to beat Wheaton Warrenville South 2-1.
St. Charles North (10-0-1) became just the second girls team to win back-to-back Pepsi titles.
"It's pretty exciting," Rydberg said. "When we come into tournaments like these it's kind of like playoff mentality, so we just put it all in and hope for the outcome that we want."
The North Stars did that against the Tigers (9-3), who were playing their fourth game in three days after winning two of three matches at a tournament in Springfield.
Rydberg got it started when she broke free in the box and fired a shot that WW South goalkeeper Abbie Brennan made a diving save on. But Wahlberg pounced on the rebound to give her team the early lead.
"Not typical for a first minute but I'm happy to capitalize on it," Wahlberg said. "That's something we practice -- (starting strong) in the first five minutes. It's hard for teams to come back from that so it's something we definitely strive for and practice for."
Rydberg made it 2-0 just 30 seconds later, slipping a short shot off the hands of Brennan.
Given the Tigers' fatigue, everyone assumed things would snowball from there, but WW South melted the North Stars' momentum and battled hard to stay in the match.
Brennan made 8 saves and the top-seeded North Stars squandered several chances to extend the lead.
That nearly came back to haunt them when junior Paige Miller scored in the 73rd minute for the Tigers.
"Getting the two-goal buffer is a nice way to start a game but (I was impressed) seeing Wheaton Warrenville South's reaction to that," Harks said. "Some teams might withdraw and get a little deflated, but it seemed to spark them even more, so we had to battle for 80 minutes."
WW South coach Guy Callipari, whose team was seeded 10th in the 16-team bracket, substituted liberally to keep his players fresh.
"You've got to give credit to North," Callipari said. "They're well-rounded, they don't give very much, they're capable of all things in all thirds, but it was a good game for us.
"I'm very proud of our girls. They could have folded. We had every reason to lay down and take it on the chin but they fought back and that takes a lot of mental strength and fortitude."