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Naperville Central’s Nicole Sacek shines in debut


Naperville Central freshman Nicole Sacek felt a little nervous before her high school debut on Wednesday.

But sophomore forward Malia Shen calmed Sacek with sage advice ahead of the Redhawks’ season opener against Burlington Central.

“I told him it was okay to just relax and have fun,” Shen said. “Because when you start playing, all your nerves disappear. It really helps.”

Sacek, whose best position was as an attacking midfielder, started as a defensive midfielder and took Shen’s advice to heart.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking, but Malia and all the girls supporting me really helped me get started,” Sacek said. “I finally just went with the flow and it felt like it was just another game.”

Sacek’s work did not last long. He made a fine assist on Shen’s goal in the third minute and later scored the game-winning goal as the Redhawks rallied to win 4-2 at Memorial Stadium.

Sacek’s varsity debut eerily mirrored Shen’s performance a year earlier, on the same field and against the same opponent. Shen scores the game-winning goal In Naperville Central’s 2-1 victory over Burlington Central.

“Seeing the players, especially the freshmen, understand what you want to do is a huge help,” Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. “(Sacek) does a really good job of understanding what is required of his position.”

Naperville Central’s Nicole Sacek (22) pushes the ball in front of Burlington Central’s Carmella Winkelhake (9) during a game on Wednesday, March 13, 2024 in Naperville. (Jon Cunningham/Naperville Sun)

With one season of experience under her belt, Shen understands what it’s like to succeed as a freshman. Was he surprised by Sacek’s debut?

“I knew from the audition that he was a very good actor,” Shen said. “He works hard and is always chasing the ball. It was really nice to see him out there. “That little batted ball was such a well-timed ball that it was played to me.

Sacek’s perfect pass into the penalty area allowed Shen to fire a wide-open shot inside the right post, and the Redhawks took a 1-0 lead with 37:08 left in the first half.

“I’m really looking for those balls and moving forward,” Sacek said. “As I normally play at number 10 (attacking midfielder), I just have the vision because the gaps really catch my attention.

“I always try to play through balls, especially in the penalty area.”

Sacek was one of three freshmen to start for the Redhawks, joining defenseman Eleanor Kane and forward. emerson burke. They thrived under pressure and were unimpressed when sophomore midfielder Mekenzie Rogers scored two stunning goals to put the Rockets (0-1-1) up 2-1 with 1:47 left in the first half.

Shen equalized the score with a magnificent assist from Burke at 28:23 of the second half. Sacek scored through heavy traffic up front to put the Redhawks ahead seven minutes later.

“I felt really great, especially as a freshman,” Sacek said. “It showed that we are a really good team and the team will continue to win games. I think we’re off to a really great start.”

Sophomore defender Nicole Smith capped the scoring by heading in a corner kick from junior defender Madison Lee with 59 seconds left. Sophomore goalkeeper Erin Hackett He made three saves in the second half to take the win.

Adams emphasizes positional flexibility to his players and said Sacek provides that. Getting a goal and an assist in his first game provides solid evidence.

“An assist or a goal is equally valuable,” Adams said. “There are great goalscorers and great assisters, but the greats can really do both.”

Naperville Central's Malia Shen (27) takes a shot while surrounded by Burlington Central defenders during a game in Naperville on Wednesday, March 13, 2024.(Jon Cunningham/For The Naperville Sun)
Naperville Central’s Malia Shen (27) takes a shot while surrounded by Burlington Central defenders during a game on Wednesday, March 13, 2024 in Naperville. (Jon Cunningham/Naperville Sun)

That’s not all Sacek can do, Shen said.

“He’s very good at defensive pressure,” Shen said. “If someone loses the ball he will always work as hard as he can to get the ball back and he is also very good at combinations so he will play the ball and run away. “He works hard.”

Sacek plans to do that no matter where he plays.

“I think I’ll stay as a linebacker, but I believe I can switch positions,” Sacek said. “I can go forward and work in the middle because I have a lot of experience everywhere. I will work hard in every area.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter.


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