Players on the St. Charles North (St. Charles, Ill.) girls' soccer team made a grand entrance at Saturday's prom -- arriving on a chartered bus holding a championship trophy.
Earlier in the day, St. Charles North defeated Althoff Catholic (Belleville, Ill.) 2-0 to win its bracket at the 2009 adidas Tournament of Champions in Burlington, Iowa.
There wasn't much time for celebration, though. After the noon match ended, players and coaches boarded the bus for the four-hour return trip, which included a quick stop at the school before delivering the players at prom.
This year's Tournament of Champions featured 26 programs from five states, including ESPN RISE FAB 50 ranked schools in Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. Sixteen of the 26 participants are placed in separate eight-team elite brackets, showcasing the top programs.
St. Charles North won its bracket, which included FAB 50 top 10-ranked Lake Forest (Ill.) and nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.). Divine Savior Holy Angels (Milwaukee) won its bracket.
For St. Charles North, the championship brought about a No. 1 ranking in the Chicago area Monday morning and a new level of confidence for the second half of the season.
"This confirms what I've been telling the girls all along, that we are a talented team," said coach Ruth Vostal, who won two state titles as a player at St. Charles. "When you are 16, 17, you don't really know how or who to compare yourself to. This tournament showed we can compete with the top teams in the country."
St. Charles North entered the event ranked No. 31 in the FAB 50 and will make a significant move up in this week's rankings.
St. Charles North defeated Waunakee (Wis.) and St. Thomas Aquinas to reach the final, a showdown of undefeated teams with Althoff Catholic. Vostal said the championship match turned on one aggressive play in the second half. The contest was scoreless until Leah DeMoss charged a ball that seemed destined for out-of-bounds and an ensuing goal kick. DeMoss' move forced the Althoff keeper to come off the line and a defender to react as well. The three players collided, leaving two of Althoff's starters injured and unable to finish the match. Minutes later, Sammy Gage scored to put St. Charles ahead and Paige Dusek added an insurance goal.
Gage scored one goal in each of St. Charles North's three victories. She and DeMoss ended the event with three goals and one assist each. Dusek added one goal and two assists.
Vostal said injuries to the St. Charles North starters led to the shifting of players for the final -- and possibly the winning combination.
Midfielders Kara Miller and Megan Bauer stepped in for injured starters Maggie Hamilton and Maryl Behm, Vostal said.
"Everything clicked," Vostal said. "We finally had the right people in the right spots."
Park Hill South (Riverside, Mo.) won its six-team bracket and Burlington (Iowa) posted the best record in a four-team round-robin event.
Top Performer: Ashley Washburn, St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.)
Washburn scored two goals and assisted on three others as St. Thomas Aquinas routed Lake Forest (Ill.) 5-0 in the third-place match of bracket play. The junior midfielder finished the event with three goals and three assists.
Best Player: Rachel Quon, Lake Forest (Ill.)
Event organizer Eric Stratman said Quon might be the second-most-talented player to ever compete in the Tournament of Champions. The Stanford signee is a youth national team player. Stratman says current UCLA player Whitney Sharpe of Valley (West Des Moines, Iowa) was the most impressive player he's ever seen at the event.
Surprise Team: Rockwood Summit (Mo.)
Rockwood Summit proved to be much more than a last-minute fill-in. After taking the spot vacated by Incarnate Word Academy (St. Louis), the team was thrust into a competitive bracket and finished in third place. Rockwood Summit knocked off St. James Academy (Overland Park, Kan.) 2-1 in the opener with a pair of second-half goals. The Falcons pushed eventual champion Divine Savior Holy Angels in the semifinals before losing 1-0. Summit salvaged the strong showing with a 1-0 victory over Middleton (Wis.) to claim the consolation prize. Kristin Bright scored two of the team's three goals at the event. Paige Sielfleisch scored the other. At 16-2-0, Rockwood Summit is heading toward its best showing since the 1998 team went 23-3-0.
For A Cause: Play for P.I.N.K.
Tied into the weekend of matches were a series of fundraisers for breast cancer research. The teams participating in this year's Tournament of Champions raised a little more than $4,000 for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Future of the Event: Iowa or St. Louis?
Stratman said Notre Dame (Burlington, Iowa) is interested in sanctioning the tournament for 2010 in order to keep the event in Burlington. Stratman said a decision will be reached within two weeks. If the event leaves Iowa, it likely will end up in the St. Louis area, where Stratman also runs the fall boys' soccer showcase titled the Gateway City Soccer Classic. "Burlington is one of the best-kept secrets," he said. "We owe it to [Burlington] if we can keep it there."
Sheldon Shealer covers youth soccer for ESPNRISE.com. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com.