Girls soccer: Fox Valley rivals Crystal Lake Central, Burlington Central set to clash at IHSA state semifinals

Both teams vying for 1st state championship appearance

Burlington Central’s Mekenzie Rogers, front, moves the ball as Crystal Lake Central’s Sadie Quinn follows the action in varsity soccer during a game this season at Burlington.

Burlington Central is bringing its revenge tour to Naperville’s North Central College this weekend.

The Rockets have dubbed this season “the year of revenge” after beating opponents who defeated them earlier this season or last season on their way to the Class 2A state semifinals. They took down Belvidere North and Wheaton Academy, who they had lost to and tied with, respectively, earlier this year, and beat Rockford Boylan, who ended Burlington Central’s season last year.

Now Burlington Central will try to continue its tour against Fox Valley Conference rival Crystal Lake Central at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

“It’s our year of revenge, so I’d like to see that continue,” Burlington Central coach Jessica Arneson said. “I’d like to see both of us do well, but one of us has to go.”

Each team took a different path to get to Naperville. The Rockets started the season 0-5-1 after playing a tough schedule with a young roster made up of 15 sophomores and five seniors. Burlington Central set its sights on winning the FVC this year, but once the Rockets lost 2-0 to Crystal Lake Central on April 18, they set their sights on going on a deep run in the playoffs.

Since that loss to the Tigers, the Rockets have gone 12-2, outscoring their opponents by a combined 66-12 margin and finishing with seven shutouts. They easily won a regional title by a 16-0 margin and then went on to beat Belvidere North (5-3), Boylan (2-1) and Wheaton Academy (5-0), respectively, in different ways to return to state for the first time since 2017.

Arneson didn’t think anything particularly clicked after the loss to the Tigers. She said the team started to jell together and play complementary soccer on both ends of the pitch.

“I think they’ve finally bought into my system and really leaned into it,” Arneson said. “Now that they see that it’s successful, that’s just taking on a new life.”

Burlington Central’s Alison Kowall, right, looks for the ball with Crystal Lake Central’s Olivia Anderson, center,  in varsity soccer at Burlington Thursday night.

While some might be surprised to see Burlington Central at state, many expected Crystal Lake Central to make a return after taking third last season. The Tigers won their fifth straight FVC title and went undefeated in the conference for a second straight year.

Crystal Lake Central needed to find unique ways to get to state. After cruising to a regional title, they survived Lake Forest in penalty kicks, scored late to beat Vernon Hills for a sectional title and came back in the second half against St. Ignatius to advance to state for the second time in program history.

“Every single game we win during these playoffs is a blessing,” Crystal Lake Central senior Olivia Anderson said. “We worked our butts off for it.”

This weekend will be the first time two teams from the FVC compete in the state finals. Burlington Central reached the state finals as a member of the Kishwaukee River Conference in 2017, while Crystal Lake Central (2023), Huntley (2016) and Prairie Ridge (2013) have each represented the FVC over the past 10 postseasons – the 2020 tournaments were canceled because of COVID-19.

“It’s our year of revenge, so I’d like to see that continue. I’d like to see both of us do well, but one of us has to go.”

—  Jessica Arneson, Burlington Central coach

Both teams were proud to represent the FVC at state and show how the conference’s talent has risen.

“It’s great for our conference,” Crystal Lake Central coach Sarah Fack said. “To have two conference teams in the state tournament is pretty amazing. It should be a really good battle.”

Crystal Lake Central has won five straight against Burlington Central. The Tigers won a double-overtime thriller last season and edged out a close matchup earlier this season.

Both teams will be playing for their first state championship game appearance in program history. There’s nothing more fitting that they have to play each other in order to get there.

“We just need to play our game,” Crystal Lake Central’s Brooklynn Carlson said. “We beat them the first time, and if we play the same way that we did, if we trust each other like always, they’re like any other team, really. We just need to play our best and hopefully it’ll go our way.”

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