Plainfield North stays unbeaten, reaches Pepsi final

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Ashley Handwork is one of the best players in the state. Plainfield North coach Jane Crowe is overjoyed to have her. At the same time, she cautions her team to spread the wealth.

“We’ve talked all year about not just relying on Ashley all the time, and I think today you saw it, that we had other players that stepped up,” Crowe said.

Handwork played her normal spectacular game but she was hardly alone as the No. 2 Tigers used their balanced and diversified attack to upend York 2-0 in the semifinals of the Pepsi Showdown at Olympic Park in Schaumburg on Saturday.

The fourth-seed Tigers advance to their first tournament title against No. 6 Buffalo Grove on Sunday, April 21, at Toyota Park.

Junior midfielder Shayna Dheel’s goal in the 21st minute proved characteristic of the Tigers’ balanced attack.

“Kaela [Leskovar] made a great run on the ball and she served a great ball and I just had to finish it,” Dheel said.

Plainfield North (11-0), off to its greatest start ever, registered its ninth shutout of the season. Senior keeper Erin Wren recorded three saves, including a spectacular block in the 74th minute off a ball from Dukes star Bryce Banuelos.

Handwork registered her 15th goal of the year in the 38th minute that provided some valuable breathing space for the Tigers. Handwork’s sister Heather Handwork created the scoring opportunity. “My sister made a great play of advancing the ball and then she dropped it off for me, and I was able to shoot it into the right-hand corner.

“That was a great play and also very unselfish on her part because she could have taken the shot herself,” Ashley Handwork said.

The victory was a crucial and symbolic building block for the evolution of the Tigers’ program.

“This is something we’ve wanted, to play at Toyota Park for the championship,” Ashley Handwork said. “We got to play there a couple of years ago, but that was just we got lucky, somebody pulled our name out of a hat.

“Now we’ve earned it,” she said.

The Dukes (7-3-1) were coming off a streak that included knocking off previously-undefeated No. 7 Loyola and beating a dangerous Glenbrook South team to reach the semifinals. Plainfield North never allowed York to create many dangerous scoring opportunities, either in transition or off its fabled set pieces.

“I think [some things] we did much better in this game than what we’ve done this was week was connect on our passes, keep the ball on the ground and adjusted to the wind,” Crowe said. “York pushed forward a ton in the second half and we didn’t want to just hang back and defend for the whole half.

I thought we did a good job of continuing to play our game.”

Ashley Handwork remains the team’s centerpiece. She is capably backed up. “We have a lot of weapons on this team, it’s not just about me, and we had other players show what they could do today,” she said.

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