CRYSTAL LAKE – When Tuesday’s crowd emptied out and the Tigers took a moment to reflect on their 2-0 Fox Valley Conference victory against Prairie Ridge, no one could explain how Crystal Lake Central goalkeeper Nora Ryan stopped a shot with her back.
“I don’t know, but she saved it,” Central coach Sarah Fack said.
“I mean, she made a save with her back,” forward Emma Bolanowski said, just to reiterate.
“I don’t know,” Ryan said. “It just ended up under my back.”
Midway through the second half of her shutout performance, Ryan laid out in an attempt to block a shot by Prairie Ridge’s Nikki Anderson. Ryan’s teammate, defender Abbey Kramer, deflected Anderson’s first attempt, but the ball rebounded right back to Anderson.
Somehow, Ryan smothered Anderson’s second attempt from point-blank range, despite the fact she was already on the ground. She wound up sitting up on her elbows, with the ball nestled between her shoulder blades and the grass.
“It probably wasn’t supposed to happen that way,” Ryan said. “That wasn’t my goal, obviously. I was trying to catch it. Then it was there, and I stayed there because you don’t want to score on yourself.”
At the time, Central (9-1, 2-0 FVC) held a one-goal lead, and Prairie Ridge (9-1-1, 1-1) desperately needed to score. In what might have been the Wolves’ best chance all afternoon, Ryan pulled all her tricks out of the bag.
“It’s what we’ve come to expect from her: some really great saves that none of us really even know what happened,” Fack said of her sophomore keeper.
Ryan made 11 saves in the shutout. Prairie Ridge controlled the possession and played on its offensive end for much of the first half but couldn’t score an early goal.
Central's Bolanowski scored 21 seconds into the second half, with an assist from Grace Rokos. Prairie Ridge couldn’t find an answer offensively. Central’s Taylor Bittenbender scored with three minute remaining to all but lock up the win.
For Prairie Ridge, the defeat was its first regular-season loss since 2017. Prairie Ridge ran through the FVC undefeated last season and didn’t lose a game until the Class 2A sectional semifinals.
“Central deserved it,” Prairie Ridge coach Mark Lewis said. “They outworked us. The best team won today. Good luck to them the rest of the season.”
No doubt, it was a momentous conference victory for the Tigers. There’s a long way to go in the FVC, but Central just knocked off the defending conference champion and has won nine consecutive matches overall.
“We wanted to prove ourselves this year,” Bolanowski said. “We knew we were going to be competing hard with [Prairie Ridge]. They’re always a great team. We really wanted to come out, and we finally got them.”
STAR OF THE GAME
Nora Ryan, Crystal Lake Central, so., GK
Ryan made 11 saves in a shutout victory for the Tigers. Central handed Prairie Ridge its first regular-season loss since 2017.
9: Central has won nine consecutive matches after a season-opening loss.
AND ANOTHER THING …
The game moved from Prairie Ridge to Central because the Wolves’ field was too soggy from Sunday’s snow. ... Youth players from the Crystal Lake Force accompanied players from both teams onto the field before the game.
Crystal Lake Central 2, Prairie Ridge 0
PR 0 0 – 0
CLC 0 2 – 2
CLC – Bolanowski (Rokos), 41st minute.
CLC – Bittenbender (Rokos), 77th minute.
Goalkeeper saves – Prairie Ridge: Gablenz 6. Crystal Lake Central: Ryan 11.