Huskies ride shutouts to title game
Updated: June 3, 2011 10:20PM
The sports fan that cares nothing for soccer usually points to a lack of scoring and games that end in a 1-0 score-- or a scoreless tie-- as reasons for their high-octane preferences.
Said person would therefore find the Naperville North girls soccer team a bit-- yawn-- boring.
You won’t find any complaints among the Huskies’ faithful. Or the players. Or the coach.
Defense wins championships, right? Never has that been more true than now as North notched its fifth shutout of the playoffs with a lockdown 1-0 win over Conant, with just the 3A title game left Saturday at 7 p.m. against Granite City.
“We defended and we thought we did a decent job, but they (Conant) are just special,” Huskies coach Brent Terada said. “You just try to contain special kids. You’ll never stop them. They’ll make plays, they’ll find open people. You just do the best you can to limit their opportunities.”
The proportion of skill to luck varies from game to game, but let’s call Friday’s shutout 70 percent skill and 30 percent luck.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t have chances,” Cougars coach Jason Franco. “That’s what you hope for against a team that defends that well. It’s just a matter of finding a corner.”
It felt like luck at times because at least four balls bounced inside the six-foot box and were struck on goal by Cougars’ players.
“This is a great team,” Terada said. “You’re not going to hold teams like this scoreless very often. And you’re not going to hold them without looks. They’re too darn good. Teams like this and Neuqua, they’re too good to not get shots off. You have to be fortunate when you play a team like this.”
Every shot was miraculously soft and right at goalie Abby Green, thanks, in part, to some timely help from teammates. When the Conant shots were struck soundly, they wound up harmlessly on the side of goal or went completely over-- not that the onslaught didn’t make everyone cringe.
“There were points where they kept shooting and shooting, but I think our defense did a good job of taking away the good opportunities,” Green said. “They were forcing a lot of shots, but there were times when you’d see the girl put her head down (to shoot) and a defender would throw her body in front of the ball and get a deflection.”
Zoe Swift’s goal off a Hunter Drendel pass in the third minute changed everything for the Huskies. Normally, North goals come off set pieces. An early goal allowed the Huskies (18-5-1) to change their defensive philosophy, which helped against a tireless Cougars’ team.
The entire second half saw four North defenders back to prevent a runout.
“We found ourselves sitting back and hunkering down and trying to keep the ball in their half, even though we were under pressure most of the time,” defender Kirsten Anderson said. “It was crazy and hectic in the box. We just knew we had to throw our bodies at absolutely everything that was there. If you think you’re going to get hurt, if you have to slide or take one in the face, whatever, it doesn’t matter if you get something on it and get it away from goal.”
Green made nine saves and Conant ripped off 17 total shots. Compare that with the two saves Lindsay Fillingim made for the Cougars (20-5) as the Huskies recorded just six total shots and tried to withstand the attacks Conant organized even with the extra Huskies’ defenders.
“It’s not by design that we went into a shell, it’s just that our kids were gassed,” Terada said. “We were just spent. What Conant did off the ball just shattered our girls physically. The 90 degree weather didn’t help, but they just kept coming. We just got knocked into a shell and our girls dug deep and battled and stayed in the game.”
The only thing that matters to the Huskies is the scoreboard. A 2-0 win over Conant on April 28 was a big achievement. Shutting out Naperville Central and No. 1 Neuqua Valley in the playoffs was even bigger.
Blanking the Cougars for the second time and only the third time all season puts North on the precipice of history.
Now the Huskies are moving on to face a complete Granite City offense, a 1-0 winner over Fremd, that scored two minutes into Friday’s semifinal win and made the goal hold up. Sound familiar?
Considering the defense is the strength of the Huskies, it might take another shutout to bring home the first state title since 1988.
“I hope not, but if that’s what it takes, so be it,” Terada said. “Our kids are willing to pour their heart out. It’s not so much the score, but if our kids put out maximum effort, the results take care of themselves.”