NAPERVILLE – Even after Oswego East’s girls soccer team opened the season with four easy wins over Southwest Prairie Conference opponents, the question remained.
Are the Wolves for real?
The answer came Saturday, when Oswego East upset Neuqua Valley 3-1 in Naperville.
The win over such a traditional power was arguably the biggest victory in program history and the first time the Wolves have beaten Neuqua. The two teams have played only once in the past 12 seasons, a 3-1 Neuqua win in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
“I think it really shows our potential this year,” Oswego East junior midfielder Chloe Noon said. “We all knew that this was going to be a tough game.
“We knew Neuqua has a really good history and I personally have played with a lot of these girls, so I knew it was going to be a tough game. But I think it really shows that we’re a force to be reckoned with and we shouldn’t be counted out of this season.”
The Wolves (5-0) had outscored their first four opponents 27-2 but had yet to face a top team. Yet the offense produced plenty of scoring chances and two spectacular goals.
Just three minutes after Neuqua’s Grace Williams bent in a corner kick to tie the game at 1-1, sophomore defender Veronica Hamilton lofted a perfectly placed 12-yard shot over the head of Neuqua goalkeeper Tara Tesmond and inside the far post with 26:07 left in the second half. Freshman Riley Gumm got the assist.
It was Hamilton’s first career varsity goal and proved to be the game-winner.
“When I saw (the opening), I had to take a touch because I was trying to take a look to see if I had anyone to cross it to because, playing outside back, I’m not normally the one that’s shooting,” Hamilton said. “So I took a breath and (aimed) for far post and hope for the best. It went over and into the goal.”
As good as that goal was, Noon added an insurance goal that was even better. She intercepted a clearing attempt about 25 yards from the goal, cut back to her left foot and fired a shot that beat the Indiana State-bound Tesmond into the extreme upper left corner of the net, just under the crossbar and inches inside the post.
That capped the scoring with 3:02 left.
“It felt really good,” said Noon, who is naturally right-footed but is comfortable using her left foot. “I know I can shoot from distance.
“That’s one of my strengths, so I was ready to follow up once it got deflected. I just cut it back and hit with my left foot and placed it.”
Sophomore forward Erika Smiley gave Oswego East a 1-0 by taking advantage of a defensive miscue and scoring just five minutes into the game. The Wolves outshot the Wildcats (3-6) by a 14-10 margin and that came as no surprise to Oswego East coach Juan Leal.
“We’ve been taking a lot of shots at practice,” Leal said. “One of things we’re trying to do with our girls is to boost their confidence by being able to shoot from 25 to 35 yards out, from everywhere on the field.
“Then when it comes to a game it’s just routine for them. It’s not something that is too hard.”
Indeed, 10 different players have scored for the Wolves. Though Neuqua was playing without three injured starters, including Xavier-bound midfielder Katelyn Nardulli, that doesn’t minimize the enormity of Oswego East’s win.
“I thought they had a lot of good players in the middle of the field and the upper half of the field,” said Neuqua junior midfielder Brooke Miller, a Division I prospect who is considered one of the top players in Illinois. “And they had (Ball State signee) Alex McPhee in the back and she’s always been really good at defense.
“They were able to use their grit and toughness to get past us.”