Girls Soccer: Craven earns Player of the Year nod
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media June 15, 2012 6:54PM
Lincoln-Way North's Rita Craven is the 2012 SouthtownStar Girls Soccer Player of the Year. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:11AM
In the spring of 2009, Rita Craven was a freshman starter on Lincoln-Way North’s first varsity girls soccer team.
Three years later, North has established itself as one of the Southland’s top programs, in no small part due to Craven, who just concluded a career that likely will have her long remembered as one of the Frankfort school’s first great athletes.
“Rita’s been a four-year varsity starter and she’s contributed every single year,” North coach Mike Murphy said. “She’s just gotten better every year. For our program to only be four years old and have three conference titles and a sectional title, I think we’ve done pretty well. Rita was obviously a huge part of that.”
Craven, a midfielder, scored 18 goals and had 17 assists in her senior season. She led the Phoenix to its first soccer sectional title in school history and was named All-State for the second straight year.
She also earned the title of 2012 SouthtownStar Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Craven is the first athlete from North to be named Player of the Year by the SouthtownStar in any sport.
“That’s awesome,” Craven said. “It’s always nice to realize that your hard work is noticed. Soccer is the one thing that I actually get noticed for, so it’s nice.
“This year was definitely my favorite year. I loved my team so much. They’re the most awesome people ever.”
With her strong ball-handling abilities, Craven consistently beat defenders and made it look easy. A one-on-one encounter with Craven rarely had a good result for a defender.
“I really love dribbling,” she said. “Everyone hates one-on-one drills in practice, but I love it. It’s my favorite. It’s so much fun. My first club team really put an emphasis on moves and we’d always practice them. It’s just kind of stuck with me.”
“Rita would never lose the ball,” Murphy said. “People would chop at her legs and she never lost it. She’s double- and triple-teamed all the time and she became great at distributing the ball to her teammates. Her assist totals show that.”
The historic year for the Phoenix, which finished 18-8-1, may have been even better had Craven been able to stay healthy.
She sprained her right ankle in the team’s sectional championship win over Providence, and while she came off the bench to play in a 1-0 supersectional loss to Normal University High, she was far from 100 percent.
Murphy said he is confident the Phoenix would have won the match with a healthy Craven.
“It was so frustrating,” Craven said. “I hate seeing my team losing and me not being really able to do anything about it. The whole time I was just thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I wish I was healthy.’ I felt really bad for my team.”
Still, the good memories far outweighed the bad for Craven.
Her favorite moments of the season were simple ones, such as Murphy designing a play named after a line in the movie “Bridesmaids,” which Craven said the team “was obsessed with.”
“It was called ‘It’s for free!’ and we’d get so happy whenever (Murphy) yelled it,” Craven said. “They were like our most exciting moments ever. It was kind of a trick play. We ran it once in a game and we scored off it.”
Craven is set to continue her career at Valparaiso University, a move she said she’s “excited, but kind of nervous” about.
So how does she want to be remembered at North?
“I just hope people will think I’m a good example for Lincoln-Way North girls soccer players,” she said.
According to Murphy, that won’t be a problem.
“She’s not just a great player,” he said. “She’s a great individual and a great student. She’ll be missed in the whole school.”