Home Sports Brianna Clasen wants to do more for Neuqua Valley this season. The junior midfielder is ‘off to the races.’

Brianna Clasen wants to do more for Neuqua Valley this season. The junior midfielder is ‘off to the races.’

by staff

Heavy graduation losses had some people expecting Neuqua Valley would take a step back this season, but junior midfielder Brianna Clasen saw it as an opportunity to take a step forward.

“We lost 11 seniors last year, so I’m trying to step up and play a bigger role on the team,” Clasen said. “Last year I was just trying to get a starting spot and have an impact.


“This year I’m trying to have a bigger impact.”

So far, so good.


Clasen scored two beautiful goals off assists from senior midfielder Anna Yuccas on Thursday as the Wildcats won their home opener by defeating Downers Grove North 4-1 in Naperville.

Clasen’s strikes — one with her head and one with her foot — came on consecutive shots three minutes apart and gave Neuqua Valley (1-1) a 2-0 lead in the first half.

The first came when Yuccas raced down the right wing and lofted a high ball into the wind. Clasen ran diagonally into the middle of Downers North’s penalty area and headed the ball out of traffic and into the net.

“I saw Anna on the right side, and I know she has speed,” Clasen said. “I know I can trust her that she was going to get the ball to me, so I knew I had to be in the right space, and she got it to me and I was able to finish.”

Yuccas, who is one of just four healthy seniors on the roster, smartly assessed the weather conditions. Attacking into the wind wasn’t a problem.

“I thought we can really use that to our advantage, really swinging the ball in,” Yuccas said. “It’s really unpredictable for the defense, so I think we really capitalized on a lot of those opportunities.”

Clasen missed her first two shots, but the third time was the charm as she met the cross from Yuccas with a smart header.

“I put a lot of power on that one, and the wind kind of held it back a little bit,” Yuccas said. “It softened it for her a little bit, and she got the nice header in.”


Neuqua Valley’s Brianna Clasen (22) is congratulated by teammate Alexis May after scoring a goal against Downers Grove North during a game in Naperville on Thursday, April 6, 2023.

Yuccas and Clasen teamed up again 2:40 later for the second goal. The setup was a replay of the first one, but this time the cross came in low, and Clasen booted a 12-yard cutback shot inside the left post with 15:35 left in the first half.

“She’s on the wing, but also doing her job of closing that second post,” Neuqua Valley coach Arnoldo Gonzalez said. “It was a great goal.”

Yuccas and Clasen, who assisted on Neuqua Valley’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to Geneva in the season opener, give the Wildcats two fast players on either wing. Both can pinch in, as Clasen did Thursday, and that can leave defenses feeling squeezed.

“You can see the quality and then the ability of her to play on the outside and take players on,” Gonzalez said of Clasen. “She’s well aware of ‘when I’m on that one-on-one, make that quick decision.’

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“Either lay that ball off, or it’s going to be a one-touch and she’s off to the races because she has the speed. She had some beautiful crosses in, as well, and she has the ability to get to that back post, as she did on that second goal.”

Neuqua Valley’s Selma Larbi (18) moves the ball way from Downers Grove North’s Ellie Watts (24) during a game in Naperville on Thursday, April 6, 2023.

Sophomore forward Selma Larbi and junior midfielder Grace Petrina also scored for the Wildcats, who are intent on reloading, not rebuilding. Clasen will play a key role in that effort.


“Bri has been playing amazing,” Yuccas said. “Her speed is really an asset for our team, flying up the wing and getting our whole attack going. She’s doing that really well.”

Gonzalez foresees Clasen racking up a healthy amount of goals and assists. Clasen is eager to prove him right.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “For club I usually play outside back, but for high school I really like playing outside mid.

“It’s a lot of fun being part of the attack, so I’m looking forward to continuing that for the rest of the season and getting some more goals and assists.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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