The Saints defeated the North Stars in last year’s sectional final in dramatic fashion, a 1-0 decision that was concluded in penalty kicks.
“I think I moved past [last year’s finish] now. I’m just ready to beat them on Friday,” Saints senior defender Libby Thomas said. “I want to beat them really bad because I just want to prove who we are as a team and beat our rivals, obviously.”
The North Stars, however, defeated their cross-river rivals twice already this season en route to an undefeated DuKane Conference title.
“I think we need to be supportive on the field; be encouraging to each other,” Thomas said. “And just have more confidence in ourselves. I think we have what it takes to beat them, but I think we should be confident and work hard for each other.”
St. Charles East (19-4-2) and Batavia (11-5-3) were deadlocked in a scoreless first half, but junior Kara Machala rainbowed in a corner kick with her left foot that arced perfectly over the outstretched arm of Batavia goalie Aubrey Hahn (six saves) for a 1-0 Saints’ lead.
“I practice [that corner shot] a lot,” Machala said. “It’s actually my third one [this season]. It’s my first with my left [foot, though].
“We just have to want it more,” Machala continued regarding their upcoming challenge on Friday. “I think in the second half against Batavia today, we just really picked it up. That’s just why we won.”
Mia Raschke headed in the second goal and Ella Stehman capitalized on an aggressive Hahn save attempt that bounced away during her charge for the third score.
“[Machala], she’s just been solid for us,” Saints coach Vince DiNuzzo said. “She doesn’t appear on the stat line often; she has the ability to score. She does so much in terms of defending, facilitating so her ability to just kind of calm us down with connect passes and play a more possession-based style of soccer we want to play is [great for us.”
Hahn will go on to play collegiately at Iowa after her four-year varsity career.
“We’ve all grown up together. We’ve known each other for forever so…playing together with all of them since we’ve all grown up together is really good,” Hahn reflected.
In Tuesday’s first game, St. Charles North (19-2) took a 2-0 halftime lead against WW South on Bella Najera’s tally and Megan McGuire cleaning up a rebound off an initial attempt from Kayla Floyd.
Senior forward Mia Taullahu pulled the Tigers within one on a nifty attempt, but Najera answered again on a penalty kick and Sophia Hein’s goal with 10:33 left finished off the North Stars’ scoring.
“I think our team has been playing amazing this whole season,” Najera said. “Obviously, our goal is to make it far into the playoffs and our mindset right now is very focused and motivated. We have so much trust in another because we have so many talented players and we all want to work hard for one another on the field.”
“We like to come out every game with intensity and drive because we are all very competitive players who strive to win,” Najera continued. “We are very excited and motivated to head into the next game.”
For the Tigers, it was an emotional conclusion to the season as they gathered around with hugs and words of encouragement from seniors.
Taullahu played on varsity for four years and will attend Dominican University.
“…I’ve known all of these girls. I love all of them,” Taullahu said. “I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. I’m only 17, so I haven’t had a lot of [life] experience, but I love all these girls. If I had a choice to do it all over again, I would 1,000 times.”