Home World Ruggiero, Naperville Central win sectional title

Ruggiero, Naperville Central win sectional title


Naperville Central’s Rebecca Ruggiero recalls that she wasn’t the most effective attacker when the season started.

The junior midfielder was a bit timid in the early going, often passing up open opportunities to shoot. When she did shoot, it was rarely on frame.

“The beginning of the season was a little bit of a rocky start,” Ruggiero said. “I’ve definitely done a lot at practice, really practicing those types of shots and those movements.

“It took a while to get more confident. I put more work in at practice, and now it’s paying off in the game.”

It paid off in a big way during the Class 3A Plainfield North Sectional championship game on Saturday. Ruggiero scored two great goals on perfectly placed shots to lead the seventh-seeded Redhawks to a 2-1 win against fourth-seeded Plainfield North.

It’s the first sectional title since 1995 for Naperville Central (14-5-1), which ousted the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds. The Redhawks advance to the St. Charles North Supersectional to play the host North Stars (16-2-6) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“This game is important, but we’re looking to be the first team ever (in program history) to win a state title,” Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. “For them to accomplish something like this is a huge testament. They’ve all bought in.

“It’s just been such a joy to coach them because when we do something in practice, you then actually see them try to do it in a game.”

For Ruggiero, that meant working on how and when to shoot.

“She’s come a long way, just recognizing, ‘This is my opportunity to shoot,’ and understanding that it doesn’t have to be hit 8,000 miles an hour,” Adams said. “The second goal was just a nice, well-struck shot. It wasn’t a laser, but it was well-struck on frame, and it found the corner, and that’s what we’ve been stressing in practice.”

Naperville Central's Rebecca Ruggiero scores her first goal as Plainfield North's Kyla Seifert defends during the Class 3A Plainfield North sectional championship soccer game Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Plainfield.  (James C. Svehla/for the Naperville Sun)
Naperville Central’s Rebecca Ruggiero, left, scores the first of her two goals as Plainfield North’s Kyla Seifert defends during the Class 3A Plainfield North Sectional championship game on Saturday, May 25, 2024. (James C. Svehla / Naperville Sun)

Ruggiero has scored three of her eight goals during this playoff run, and all came on right-footed shots that nestled inside the left post.

Her first one against the Tigers (22-3-1) came after a great buildup from the midfield. Freshman forward Emerson Burke passed it up the middle to junior forward Emma Russell, who had her back to the goal just outside the circle. Russell immediately passed to Ruggiero, who raced into the right side of the box and scored on a 12-yard shot to the lower left corner to open the scoring with 12:42 left in the first half.

It was one of only two shots the Redhawks mustered in the first half.

“It was 39 minutes and 45 seconds of garbage and 15 seconds of brilliance, which is why soccer stinks,” Adams said. “But we run a lot of that stuff in practice, so our ability to translate what we do in practice to the game and not let the moment get too big is huge.”

That came in handy after Plainfield North tied it on Lauren Mrugala’s 25-yard rocket at the 22:51 mark of the second half.

“We tried really hard to keep focused and not let it get to us because we still had a good amount of time to come back,” Ruggiero said. “We kept telling ourselves we can do it if we work really hard. We did, and I’m really happy about that.”

It was Ruggiero who again provided the finishing touch, taking a short pass from Burke and scoring on a 26-yard shot inside the left post with 16:09 left.

“I was running up the field, and then I saw kind of an open gap,” Ruggiero said. “I asked for the ball, and then I took the shot.”

Burke said she’s going to give the ball to Ruggiero whenever she calls for it.

“I saw that the girls were all coming to me, so I was like, ‘I’m just going to lay it off to her, and she’s going to have a touch to be able to shoot it,’” Burke said. “It seems like the vision was there.

“She’s very good in the box and in the final third with finishing. She’s very reliable in that type of sense.”

Ruggiero is pleased to be a reliable player on a team that ended a 29-year sectional title drought.

“It means a lot because this is my third year on the team,” Ruggiero said. “I’m really happy with my team because we work really hard, and all the hard work is paying off.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter.

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