Girls soccer: Bella Najera, Fox All-Area Captain
Bella Najera would cheer on Bella Najera.
The St. Charles North senior is one of those rare kids who not only is able to play her sport at a high level, but also is one of the biggest supporters of her athletic classmates.
"Last year I joined the Blue Fan Group," she said. "And St. Charles North has a great community of sports. Every team is very good. I have a bunch of friends that play and I go to a lot of games. I have a lot of friend groups and with my personality I'm pretty outgoing and I like to cheer them on."
A lot of cheering this spring, and during the past few springs, has been for Najera. She has been named the Captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley All-Area Girls Soccer Team and will now take her talents to Michigan State to play for the Spartans.
Najera led the North Stars to their 20th consecutive regional title as well as a sectional championship this season -- beating rival St. Charles East. She finished the season with 20 goals and 7 assists.
Last year she had 19 goals and 6 assists, and during her debut season as a sophomore she had 19 goals and 9 assists. Najera's freshman season was canceled due to the pandemic.
She's been consistently amazing, winning the DuKane Conference Golden Boot with 11 goals in 7 games.
"We lost out on her freshman year because we didn't have that season, but she made varsity," North Stars coach Brian Harks said. "This year we had more offensive power, Laney Stark had 17 goals, but during (Najera's) sophomore and junior years the next highest scorer had 8 goals, so she's been providing the bulk of our offensive power."
Growing up and competing against her siblings instilled a competitiveness in her at an early age that's blossomed into countless accolades and a great deal of success as a 50-12-4 record during her three years of playing for the North Stars attests.
"I always wanted to beat my brother and sister," the all-state selection said. "I wanted to work hard in everything I did. There are a lot of good players and I've continued to work hard, especially this year. At every practice and game I work my hardest and that makes others work harder."
Harks had the pleasure of coaching Bella Najera's older sister, Claudia. He first met Bella, the two-time DuKane Conference Player of the Year, when she was on the sideline chasing after soccer balls while Claudia was a standout player before heading to Iowa State.
"She was always there on the sidelines so I've known her since she was a little girl," Harks said. "I knew she understood the game and always wanted to be around. It's her soccer IQ that's one of the things that makes her so successful. She's not a large player, maybe 5-foot-4, but she uses her body super well and makes sure she is in the right position at the right time."
That position is one from where she often can score. We all know scoring a goal is difficult and anyone who follows Illinois high school soccer knows Najera is really good at doing it, making her a prized commodity.
"She's in the middle of the field for us and constantly moving," Harks said. "While potentially she might be more of a true forward, she is always moving and covers so much ground, and when she does that, goals just seem to happen. They don't just happen, though, it's because she is putting herself in the right place at the right time."
The right place for the ball to be for the North Stars is at Najera's feet where she exudes confidence.
"I've been playing for such a long time that when I have the ball at my feet I feel I'm in control," she said. "I can do a lot and that's from training a lot on working on being pressured a lot from quality players. My team will help me if I'm double guarded, and I'm constantly moving on the field. If I get the ball, I like to keep the ball. I'm a pretty technical player and I like to do my moves. Beating a player is really fun and it's obviously fun too when I shoot the ball and it goes in."
While such a scoring threat herself, Najera's defense is unheralded, an aspect not surprising to learn in a sport with minimal statistical categories.
"She's definitely a two-way player," Harks said. "She's one of our better defenders in the program as well and she has the ability to guard another really talented player."
After serving as a team captain as a junior and again this season, Najera saw her role continue to grow in new ways.
"I tried to be more of a leader on and off the field again like last year and help teach the underclassmen," she said. "I want to be an all-around player and didn't feel I helped out as much on defense last year so this year I was more helpful for my team and was everywhere on the field trying to improve every game."
Harks acknowledged that while she was a great soccer player, she also stood out as a great captain and leader.
"From the newest freshman to the most veteran leader on the team, they all look up to her," he said. "I don't know how she finds the time to sleep. She's at every sporting event, whether basketball, football, water polo or tennis matches or baseball games, she's definitely been a big part of the North Stars community. We will miss her when she leaves, and not just our program, but the St. Charles North community."