AURORA – Cameron DeCook is well aware that the next time she takes the soccer field could be her last, as the Naperville North senior is not playing in college.
She is not ready to say good-bye to soccer, or Huskies blue and orange.
“It does for sure motivate me harder,” DeCook said. “I love playing for Naperville North, all the girls around me, and especially for our coaches. I have so much pride to wear the jersey. Every time I step on the field I want to make everyone happy.”
DeCook made sure of it Friday.
Her goal in the 28th minute of the Class 3A East Aurora Regional final broke up a scoreless game with Oswego East. The Huskies went on to beat the Wolves 4-1 for the Naperville North program’s 12th consecutive regional championship.
It’s Naperville North’s 18th regional title since 2002, so nothing new, but this season is a unique one. DeCook and Maggie Fitzgerald, who added the Huskies’ third goal on a penalty kick with 15:25 left in the game for a 3-0 lead, are the only starters back from last year. Naperville North has four freshmen on its roster, including starting goalkeeper Olivia Ochsner.
Another freshman, Claire DeCook – Cameron’s sister – scored a team-high 16 goals, but tore her ACL on April 27 against New Trier.
Nonetheless, the Huskies (13-5-1) appear to be peaking at the right time.
They’re 11-2 over their last 13 games, the lone losses in penalty kicks to Barrington and in double-overtime to Metea Valley.
Annie Chang added the fourth goal for the third-seeded Huskies, who advance to face second-seeded Plainfield North in a sectional semifinal Tuesday back at East Aurora.
“I have to say, coming into the season, Cam and I were nervous just for the amount of experience we had coming in. We did not have many girls with experience in big moments and big games,” Fitzgerald said. “I have never been prouder of a team. People underestimated us a lot, but every single obstacle this team faces we’ve overcome.”
Naperville North, which beat Oswego East (12-7-2) 6-0 in last year’s sectional semifinal, dominated the run of play for most of the first half. Finally, DeCook beat a defender to a through ball and drilled a 15-yard shot inside the far left post with 12:57 left in the half.
“We had so many opportunities. I knew one of them would fall, and after that it would open the floodgates, which I feel it kind of did,” DeCook said. “We beat them substantially last year, and we had that in the back of our heads. We knew not to be overconfident. They’re an amazing program, always a great team to play.”
It didn’t take long for the Huskies to double their lead, Isa Polavieja scoring on a 10-yard strike with 10:12 left in the half, where it remained until half.
“I think we did much better in the second half. I think we had our nerves settle in the first half,” Oswego East coach Juan Leal said. “We got a little shaky and the girls gave up the second goal right away, but the girls came out and fought in the second half. They were more aware that they had to have a presence on the field. We were challenging, but still had trouble connecting. [Naperville North] is fast, they swarm, they take away options.”
The Wolves’ biggest option, by far, is junior midfielder Anya Gulbrandsen, but Naperville North made it a priority to limit her.
Gulbrandsen, a Wisconsin recruit who scored four goals in Oswego East’s regional semifinal, missed on a corner kick attempt midway through the first half.
She finally knocked in her 30th goal of the season with just under five minutes remaining, playing a ball from the left side and hitting a 15-yard strike.
“You could tell they had 2-3 girls on her, making sure if she did get a ball they had somebody going in between her and the ball, trying to slow her down,” Leal said. “If they didn’t take the ball away from her, at least they’d try to impede her run.”
Still, Gulbrandsen was proud of her team’s improved result against a tough Naperville North club. And the Wolves accomplished it with a banged-up group. Starting goalkeeper Sam McPhee, who made a couple of leaping saves, played with a large wrap on her right leg due to what Leal believed to be a partially torn quad.
“We would have wanted a different result, but this is a tough sectional. Anybody that comes out of it usually makes it pretty far,” Gulbrandsen said. “It stinks to lose this, but easy to look at it, last year was a six-goal different, this year was half that. We would have liked it to be plus three, but it was a good game.”