Girls soccer: Neuqua Valley avenges Oswego East loss, wins regional
Brooke Miller had an easy explanation for how Neuqua Valley reversed its outcome with Oswego East on Friday.
It's a new team.
The Wildcats were without three key players in their regular-season match with the Wolves, including Xavier recruit Katelyn Nardulli. Lauryn Adamski, one of Neuqua Valley's center backs, is back from a concussion. The Wildcats have recently made some lineup changes, too.
Thus, Neuqua Valley looked nothing like the team that lost to Oswego East earlier this season. Nor like the team that's struggled mightily to score this spring.
Miller assisted her team's first goal, headed in the second, sixth-seeded Neuqua Valley scored three goals in the first half and went on to a 3-1 win over third-seeded Oswego East in a Class 3A regional final, in the process handing the Wolves their only loss of the season.
Neuqua (8-9-1), winning its 17th regional title since 2002 and advancing to face Naperville North next Tuesday, denied Oswego East (14-1) in its bid for its first regional crown.
"We were really just coming out with a new team this time. We were full of energy and really wanted to beat them," said Miller, a junior midfielder. "We remember the last time we played them (a 3-1 Oswego East win), they were really happy with it and we didn't want to feel like that again. If this was our last game, we were going to go all out."
The Wildcats indeed went all out, dominating possession in the first half with a commanding 12-2 shot advantage. After an Oswego East handball in the box in the game's 39th minute, Nardulli banged in a shot that went off the crossbar and in for a 3-0 halftime lead.
"They came out super fast and super physical wanting to really dictate the game and they ended up doing that," Oswego East coach Juan Leal said. "With Brooke in the middle distributing, that was a big presence for them and they obviously took advantage of their opportunities."
Miller, one of the state's best players, indeed showed why in helping Neuqua Valley dictate the run of play early.
In the 13th minute Miller got ahead of the defense and delivered a gorgeous cross to sophomore Grace Williams, who scored for a 1-0 lead.
"We've really been practicing finishing our chances and crosses because we've been struggling to score," Miller said. "We know when we have a chance we have to finish, especially in an important game like this."
Miller finished a chance in the 28th minute, a header that might have grazed a teammate but regardless went in for Miller's team-high 10th goal of the season.
"Some kids are born leaders, and she's one of them," said Neuqua Valley coach Joe Moreau, in his 29th season between Neuqua and St. Charles. "If I were doing a starting 11 in Neuqua history, she'd be in the starting 10."
Oswego East did come out with more energy in the second half, which was even on shots.
In the game's 47th minute Wolves' freshman Anya Gulbrandsen ripped a 25-yard shot just inside the right post for her 14th goal of the season, tied for a team-high.
But Neuqua Valley kept Oswego East, which had scored 76 goals over 14 matches coming in, off the board the rest of the way.
"We know where a lot of their opportunities come from," Miller said. "We played them the last time and we know they like to play balls from the other side and use their speed and so we talked beforehand about making sure our defenses cover each other. In the first half especially we talked about cutting off the middle man, marking to not let them take shots."
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for Oswego East, but the future is exceptionally bright.
Its top three scorers -- Gulbrandsen, sophomore Erika Smiley and freshman Riley Gumm -- will all return, as will sophomore Sam McPhee from a very young team.
"To the seniors' credit, one of the things we're most proud of about them is helping these girls establish themselves and build that confidence," Leal said. "The presence they had on these younger girls, they're going to carry into the long run. These girls are going to remember this feeling for the next 300 days and come out ready to go next year."