Girls soccer: St. Charles North rallies in second half, tops Naperville Central for first state bid since 2012

Juliana Park scores tying goal, Laney Stark game-winner in 2-1 victory

St. Charles North players celebrate their victory over Naperville Central to win the Class 3A St. Charles North Supersectional soccer final at St. Charles North High School on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

ST. CHARLES — St. Charles North entered halftime of Tuesday’s supersectional matchup against Naperville Central in a situation that it hadn’t experienced yet in the playoffs.


But coach Brian Harks had one message for his girls in the locker room between halves: keep fighting.

“I said that we had to make sure that we were doing the little things well,” Harks said. “We had a lot of time left, so let’s put some shots on frame and test the keeper.”

The message clearly resonated with the North Stars. And it showed early on the field.

Juliana Park tied the game just 28 seconds into the second half, and Laney Stark scored the eventual game-winner just three minutes later to help the North Stars to a 2-1 victory over the Redhawks.

“You can’t describe the feeling in one word,” Stark said. “We’ve been fighting for this all season and all last season, and I think we’re ready.”

St. Charles North's Juliana Park (18) smiles after scoring a goal against Naperville Central during a Class 3A St. Charles North Supersectional soccer final match at St. Charles North High School on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

The North Stars (17-2-5) are heading back to the state tournament for the first time since 2012, when they fell to Naperville North 1-0 in four overtimes in the longest state championship match to date.

Harks, who is going to state for the first time as a head coach after making the trip as an assistant on the 2012 state runner-up team, said that he couldn’t be more happy for his team to make it back to state.

“The amount that they’ve improved over the course of the season is just a fantastic feeling,” Harks said. “I think they’re definitely deserving of this after the work they’ve put in.”

Park’s goal was the second occurrence in which she found the back of the net within the first minute of the half in the playoffs, with her first coming in the first half of the regional finals against Batavia.

This time around, Park corralled the ball from Stark about 25 yards out from the goal. After taking some time to set up shop, Park sent the ball into the bottom-right corner of the net to knot the game at 1-1.

“I saw the goalie was a little bit off to the left, so I shot it and it went into the right corner,” Park said. “It felt really great.”

St. Charles North's Laney Stark (19) shoots the ball for a goal against Naperville Central's Malia Shen (27) during a Class 3A St. Charles North Supersectional soccer final match at St. Charles North High School on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

Stark contributed to the scoring once again three minutes later, this time on the shooting end. After Kaitlyn Glenn headed the ball into the box from the sideline, Stark ran stride for stride with defender Malia Shen for the ball, and managed to get a foot on the ball and into the net in a shot that Harks said was “all will.”

“I knew that I had to get a touch on it and redirect it,” Stark said. “The goalie was coming strong side to where I was, so I knew that if I redirected it to the other post, it was going to be a hard save. So I just laid out for it.”

North will face Fremd in the state semifinals match, which will be played at 6 p.m. Friday at North Central College in Naperville. The Vikings defeated two-time defending Class 3A state runner-up Barrington in penalty kicks to make its first appearance at state since 2011.

“We’re going to need a consistent approach,” Harks said. “We’ve just got to play the style of soccer that we know how to play. There’s no special formula, there’s no secret ingredient, it’s just a commitment to doing all the little things really well.”

Naperville Central's Nicole Sacek (22) reacts after scoring a goal against St. Charles North during a Class 3A St. Charles North Supersectional soccer final match at St. Charles North High School on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

Central (14-6-1) got on the board first in the 31st minute after Emma Russell found a lone Nicole Sacek in the box, who won the one-on-one with goalie Lauren Korioth after sinking the ball into the bottom-right of the net to give the Redhawks a 1-0 lead. But the lone goal wasn’t enough for the Redhawks to make it to the state series for the first time since 1995.

Central coach Troy Adams said that despite not making it to state, the experience that his young team has garnered throughout the year will be good in establishing what they want to do as a team in the future.

“They worked hard and controlled what they could,” Adams said. “They came out in the last 20 minutes of the first half and played some great soccer. And we talk about players being willing to move to wherever they need to and that was all good. They played well, just not well enough to win today.”