2024 Northwest Herald Girls Soccer Coach of the Year: Crystal Lake Central’s Sarah Fack

Fack led Tigers to program’s 1st state championship

Crystal Lake Central girls soccer coach Sarah Fack won her second straight Northwest Herald Girls Soccer Coach of the Year honor after leading the Tigers to their first state championship this spring.

Crystal Lake Central didn’t need much motivation heading into this season. The Tigers came close to winning their first state championship last season after taking third in their first trip to a state finals in program history.

With the majority of last season’s roster returning, everything was set for the Tigers to make history this year.

But Central coach Sarah Fack made sure to prepare the Tigers for all the expectations. The Tigers had meetings at the beginning of the season discussing the work that had to be put in if they wanted to win a state title. Fack also knew when to let her talented senior class figure it out on the field and when to take over throughout the season.

The Tigers responded. They went undefeated in the Fox Valley Conference for a second straight season and won a fifth straight FVC title. Central returned to the state finals for a second straight year and accomplished its goal of winning the program’s first state championship.

“Every time we got a little bit nervous or a little bit tense, she kept reminding us to believe in ourselves,” senior Olivia Anderson said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

For her efforts in leading the Tigers to their first state title, Fack is named the Northwest Herald Girls Soccer Coach of the Year for a second straight season and third time since 2019, as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches. Burlington Central’s Jessica Arneson and Richmond-Burton’s Casey DeCaluwe also were considered.

Sports reporter Michal Dwojak caught up with Fack, who talked about what it meant to win the program’s first state title, her favorite moment from the season and what other sport she’d coach.

What do you think you’ll remember most about this championship season?

Fack: I think really the whole process of getting there. I don’t know if it was one particular moment. I think it was just a culmination of a lot of hard work from these kids over the years. Maybe when that final whistle blew, just to see how overcome with emotion they all were because they were so bought in, so into playing for each other. They had so much belief. When it finally happened, I think they were almost in shock. The elation of all the players was special to see.

What was that moment like when you won the championship?

Fack: I think it’s one of those things that takes a little bit to hit you, settle in. Just seeing how happy all the players were, for them to see all their hard work pay off was a really special moment, really exciting. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often.

Was winning a championship your goal for the program when you took over in 2017?

Fack: When I first took over varsity, it was not something on my mind. I just thought it was a great opportunity, really exciting to take a step up in the program. It’s always something that you aspire to, but it wasn’t really anything that was on my radar. In 2019, we had a lot of success, then we saw that really big group of kids come in their freshman year, we knew this could really be, in a few years, it could turn into something special with this many kids that are so talented.

What did it mean for you to see this senior group achieve their goal of winning a state title?

Fack: It takes a lot more than talent. It takes their commitment, their hard work, their belief, some consistency and getting a little bit better year-by-year. I think that’s what they did. They put in the work, they had that goal each year, and they were willing to work for it, work for each other. I think having four years with so many players together helped them become that family and really want to play for each other and do anything that they could for this team. They really built that chemistry as well as having so many kids in the program for so long, just letting them figure out how to be leaders so they could really lead themselves. It was pretty special to watch.

What does it mean for the program to win its first state title?

Fack: Honestly it’s pretty wild going from having a handful of conference titles and one regional before 2019. It’s still pretty crazy that it went from not a whole lot to a state championship suddenly with all those kids and talent that we had. At this point, I think the expectations are just so much higher. The kids themselves have higher expectations of themselves and they know what’s possible. So we hope this isn’t just a little stretch of success. I really hope that with these kids that came in and really changed the culture, changed the program, set the foundation for future success.

Which one of your players did you find the most inspiring this season?

Fack: It was one of those years where truly different kids stepped up at different times, important times on and off the field. One that’s really been the consistent, great leader for this team has been Addison Cleary, our goalkeeper. She was the sole captain this year, she was a captain last year as a junior. I think the team really looks up to her, respects her and she just has that leadership quality in her. She’s just a great kid. It was wonderful to have her leading this group.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Fack: At this point, I’d actually go back somewhere that I’ve already been and bring my kids with. I’d like to go back to South Africa, but with my kids. Go to Kruger National Park for a safari.

What other sport would you coach if you didn’t coach soccer?

Fack: I would still have to learn a lot, but if there was another one, I think it would ice hockey. I’ve only played it in the neighborhood for fun.

If you could be any animal, which would you be and why?

Fack: I think I have to go with the tiger just because it’s our mascot, and as a kid it was my favorite animal, too. I think we’ve got to stick with the tiger.

What are the expectations for next season with the group you have coming back?

Fack: It’s one of those things where any team can win any year. I wouldn’t say going to state would be anything completely out of the question, because we do have a really great group of kids. I think the expectations are the same thing, to win, but we’re going to have to find a new identity because we have such a big class that’s leaving. We’ve got two juniors this year, who will be seniors, who are going to be great leaders, step into that role. But it’s going to be a really different makeup, different chemistry because there’s going to a lot of new faces, too. So it’s going to be trying to get everyone on the same page early and start building from there.

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