By the time the Crystal Lake Soccer Federation Force 2004 Elite+ team reached the final of the 2023 Disney Girls Soccer Showcase at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, players were gassed and ready for a nap.
“It was the dead versus the walking dead,” Force coach Mark Lewis said. “Both teams were incredibly tired. They gave their heart and soul.”
After advancing through the group stage with three wins and then surviving a bracket-style tournament to reach the final, winning its semifinal on a last-second goal and penalty kicks, the 2004 Elite+ team pushed through the pain.
Crystal Lake Force beat Orlando City, 1-0, in the final Jan. 16 on an early goal from McHenry senior and Western Kentucky commit Sarah Duginske, making a few long days worth the trip.
“We were pretty exhausted, all of us,” said Duginske, who had five goals in six games. “And it didn’t help that we had school the next day. We were just like, ‘We made it this far, we’re already this tired, so why not just win it all?’
“We were not losing that game. Nobody was there to lose.”
Crystal Lake Force has sent previous teams to the Disney Showcase before, but those years haven’t included a tournament-style structure with a winner at the end.
The Disney Showcase is “the ultimate place for top clubs to be seen by hundreds of college coaches looking for prospective student athletes,” according to the showcase’s official website.
The Crystal Lake Force 2004 Elite+ roster is made up of 16 players, all from Fox Valley Conference schools: Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Hampshire, Huntley, Jacobs, McHenry and Prairie Ridge.
“It’s not an event you can just write a check in and get in,” Lewis said. “You have to have a track record and earn your way in. It’s very difficult. This is all about the kids. They’re incredible.”
Against Orlando City, CG senior Alyssa Hamann sent in the corner kick for the game-winning score by Duginske, who paced back and forth outside the penalty box before sneaking past defenders and heading the ball into the back of the net.
The Force made Duginske’s header stand behind a shutout from the defense and junior goalkeeper Addison Cleary (Crystal Lake Central), who made five saves. The Force defense was tough throughout, allowing only one goal in six games.
Hamann led the team with four assists in six games.
Duginske also provided a dramatic, last-second goal in the semifinals against a familiar opponent, Chicago Rush, scoring in the 80th minute off a free kick from high school teammate Emerson Gasmann (McHenry). She scored that goal on a header, as well, this time readjusting her position after the goalie tipped the ball in midair.
The Force went on to win 4-3 in penalty kicks, getting goals from Hamann, Emerson, Grace Apgar (CG) and Olivia Roth (Prairie Ridge). Cleary had two saves during the extra round of shots.
“It’s definitely high pressure, but it’s fun to know that one shot can determine the outcome of the game,” Cleary said. “We were all just super excited. It was a lot of games in a little time. By the end of it, we were really feeling it and super sore.”
The Force played six games in four days, with one game each on Friday and Saturday and two games each on Sunday and Monday.
The team then traveled back home for school the next day.
Lewis described it as a business trip.
“They had a curfew, and they had a very strict regimen of what they could and could not do,” Lewis said. “I’m not saying they didn’t have fun, but it was a lot of work. I’m really proud of them.”
Duginske said she couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
“This was definitely the most unique event I’ve ever been to,” Duginske said. “It was a moment you dream about.”
Crystal Lake Force 2004 Elite+ roster
Grace Apgar, Cary-Grove
Sofia Bruns, Huntley
Addison Cleary, Crystal Lake Central
Sarah Duginske, McHenry
Emerson Gasmann, McHenry
Alyssa Hamann, Cary-Grove
Kali Kaiser, Crystal Lake Central
Sidney Kroening, Crystal Lake South
Bella Mickey, Jacobs
Jillian Mueller, Crystal Lake Central
Helen Negron, Hampshire
Taylor Pawl, Cary-Grove
Josie Richert, Hampshire
Delaney Roimiser, Jacobs
Olivia Roth, Prairie Ridge
Kristen Silenzi, Jacobs