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With her soccer career on the line, Audrey Hartmann delivers ‘amazing ball’ to set up Naperville North’s win

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Naperville North senior midfielder Audrey Hartmann was feeling tired.

It was the 80th minute of the game, and the 80-degree temperature had taken its toll.

But with the Huskies’ season on the brink and her soccer career in danger of ending, Hartmann knew she had to do something after intercepting a clearing attempt in the midfield.

“I knew there was not a lot of time in the game left, and I knew I had to get the ball forward and it had to be a really great ball,” she said. “We needed to put one in the back of the net.

“I’m a senior. If we didn’t win, I would have been out. So I was giving it everything I had, and so was everyone else on the team.”

The serve Hartmann sent into space would be called an ace in tennis. Sophomore forward Claire DeCook raced to it from the left wing, got to the ball a split second before Waubonsie Valley senior goalkeeper Lauren Bornhoff did and ripped a 16-yard shot off the right post and into the net with 43 seconds remaining.

It was the 13th goal of the season for DeCook. It stood up as the game-winner as the third-seeded Huskies rallied to win the Class 3A East Aurora Regional championship with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the sixth-seeded Warriors on Friday.

“It was an amazing ball from Audrey,” DeCook said. “I saw that she was going to open up her hips, and I knew there were no other runners in.

“I was super close to the goalie. I used so much momentum, it kind of dinged the post a little bit. So even though everyone was celebrating, I did tap it in just in case because you never know.”

Naperville North’s Claire DeCook (22) takes the ball up the field during the Class 3A East Aurora Regional championship game against Waubonsie Valley on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Troy Stolt / Naperville Sun)

Indeed, nothing is ever certain in soccer, especially in the playoffs. Naperville North (13-5-4) had routed Waubonsie Valley 5-1 just 10 days earlier.

But the Warriors (10-8-2) took a 1-0 lead when Taylor Ahmadian scored off an assist from fellow senior forward Eleanor Oster with 34:51 left in the second half.

The lead stood until senior forward Annie Chang tied it for Naperville North off an assist from junior midfielder Isa Polavieja with 19:48 to go.

Overtime appeared inevitable, but Hartmann and DeCook somehow summoned enough energy.

“An absolutely fantastic goal by Claire,” Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said. “We ask the world of her. We probably ask her for more than is possible. But with 40 seconds left in the game, she’s exhausted, but she still makes the run, and if she doesn’t make the run, we’re going to overtime.

“That’s the difference — to make the run, have the composure to finish. I’m super happy for her.”

Hartmann was happy for DeCook but not surprised she scored.

“That’s just Claire,” Hartmann said. “It was a great combination, and I think without our team effort, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

“What’s so great about our team is everyone works to the final seconds and we never give up. And if Claire didn’t make that run, we wouldn’t have finished.”

Instead, the Huskies won their 13th consecutive regional title and advanced to the Plainfield North Sectional semifinals, where they will take on the winner of the Saturday game between second-seeded Metea Valley and seventh-seeded Naperville Central at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“It means so much,” DeCook said. “It’s an expectation to win this every year. We set those high standards, so obviously every year, no matter how good this team is, it’s always going to be hard because we have amazing competition.

“I know it doesn’t get any easier from here, so we just have to keep raising that standard.”

Naperville North's Audrey Hartmann (10) wins possession of the ball from Waubonsie Valley's Eleanor Otter (23) during the Class 3A East Aurora Regional championship game in Aurora on Friday May 17, 2024. (Troy Stolt/for the Naperville Sun)
Naperville North’s Audrey Hartmann (10) wins possession of the ball against Waubonsie Valley’s Eleanor Oster during the Class 3A East Aurora Regional championship game on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Troy Stolt / Naperville Sun)

It’s a standard boosted by relatively unheralded players like Hartmann, whose efforts in the midfield often go unnoticed and unrewarded on the stat sheet. The assist on DeCook’s game-winning goal was just her second point of the season.

Hartmann said she had some offers to play college soccer but turned them down in order to study nursing at Indiana. That’s why she’s savoring every moment of Naperville North’s playoff run.

“I’m going to focus on my academics,” Hartmann said. “So it’s going to be a really hard goodbye. That’s why I’m giving everything I have for these last few games, because I want to win state.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter.

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