ST. CHARLES – Junior forward Gia Wahlberg served as one of three captains for the St. Charles North girls soccer team in 2017, a role that commanded an increased vocal presence on and off the field.
As with most of her soccer exploits, Wahlberg encountered little trouble in raising her volume a few notches.
“I just kind of reminded myself that, hey, I did it before when I wasn’t a captain, but now I really need to step it up even more,” Wahlberg said. “I would say that it comes naturally more than anything.”
Wahlberg provided plenty for the North Stars to shout about this season. The Kane County Chronicle girls soccer Player of the Year maintained a brisk pace while leading an 19-1-3 team to an IHSA Class 3A supersectional berth behind a team-high 18 goals and 13 assists.
“She just has this incredible ability to dictate the tempo of play, whether that be in a game, whether that be in practice, or even just an offseason lifting session,” North coach Brian Harks said. “She gets after it. She’s always trying to get the most of it. And that in itself is really amazing, but I think one of the things that’s even more important with her is that her teammates see it and they feed off it, and they, in turn, are motivated to work harder.”
Wahlberg admittedly experienced brief uneasiness after the North Stars elected their trio of captains before the season. Long established as a key contributor after strong freshman and sophomore showings for a perennial state power, she nonetheless wondered how her teammates would respond to the news.
Although captaincy culture varies by program, seniors long have assumed the role for the North Stars in recent seasons.
It turns out Wahlberg had nothing to fear.
“She meets every single criteria that a great captain needs to be,” North senior midfielder Amanda Czerniak said. “She goes beyond just working. You know how a leader can lead by example? She goes even beyond that and just is a great vocalist and knows how to pump our team up.”
Defender Claire Barresi and midfielder Katy Kusswurm, both seniors, flanked Wahlberg as captains. The trio helped a seasoned group to victories in 12 of its first 13 matches en route to a 5-0-1 finish in Upstate Eight River matches.
Selflessness and versatility boosted the North Stars, and was especially evident in Wahlberg and her approach.
“Not just being a goal scorer, but wanting to contribute to passing and assists and defending as much as I could, even though I was a forward,” she said.
Junior midfielder Hailey Rydberg ranked a close second behind Wahlberg with 16 goals and 12 assists. Rydberg and Wahlberg, who were both Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association all-state players and who both have siblings on the team, often followed one another’s leads in between scoring plays, as well.
Such synergy, forged from countless shared experiences as Campton United club teammates before high school, paid dividends May 26 in the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional championship game against Geneva.
Maneuvering near the Vikings' back line, Wahlberg drew a foul in the Geneva box. Moments later, Rydberg converted a penalty kick for the opening goal in an eventual 3-1 North Stars win.
"After playing with each other for so long, you just kind of make that connection, I feel like,” Rydberg said.
North suffered its lone defeat in its final match, a 1-0 loss to New Trier in the 4A Bartlett supersectional at Streamwood. The North Stars lost to the Trevians in the same round in 2016, but one need not strain to hear Wahlberg's resolve when she addresses the program's outlook on the future.
“Of course, we’re never satisfied with a loss at the supersectional. That’s two years in a row," Wahlberg said. "But I can confidently say we’ve learned from it, and next year, we’re definitely going to be ready if it comes up again.”
Kane County Chronicle all-area team
Batavia: Mackenzie Foster, sr.; Cameron Hindel, sr.; Keegan Maris, sr.; Jenny Scara, sr.
Burlington Central: Elizabeth Gousios, jr.; Jordan King, jr.; Megan Majewski, jr.; Anna McMahon, sr.; Kyrsten Pellikan, soph.
Geneva: Jenna Dominguez, soph.; Sydney Gratz, soph.; Emma Harkleroad, sr.; Stephanie Howe, soph.
Kaneland: Holly Collingbourne, sr.; Abbie Lomahan, soph.; Taylor Zitkus, sr.
Rosary: Elizabeth Kvitek, sr.; Emma Porteous, sr.
St. Charles East: Chantel Carranza, jr.; Claire Rassmussen, sr.; Tori Schumann, sr.; Allison Strauss, sr.
St. Charles North: Claire Barresi, sr.; Katy Kusswurm, sr.; Hailey Rydberg, jr.; Sami Sample, sr.; Gia Wahlberg, jr.
St. Francis: Kendra Pasquale, jr.; Hannah Rittenhouse, soph.