Loyola Academy came into Tuesday's supersectional against Conant having allowed only 3 goals all season.
So the Cougars knew if they could get an early one past the Ramblers outstanding keeper Carly Stevens, they might be able to get the momentum on their side.
Enter Conant midfielder Sammie Van de Linde.
Van de Linde took possession of a ball near the edge of the box in the 17th minute and curled a shot just past the outstretched fingertips of Stevens into the back of the net, and the Cougars defense did the rest in a 1-0 victory over previously undefeated Loyola in Elk Grove.
Stevens had recorded 24 shutouts this season prior to Tuesday's game.
"We knew we were up against a tough goalie," said junior Sammie Van de Linde, "so we wanted to get a lot of reps.
"I was able to cut back and I found a gap."
As a result, Conant earns a spot in Friday's Class 3A state semifinals against Naperville North at 5 p.m. Friday at Naperville Central High School. Fremd will meet Granite City in the 7 p.m. semifinal. The semifinal losers will meet for third place 5 p.m. Saturday; the semifinal winners meet for the title at 7 p.m. Saturday.
After a flurry of shots on goal in the first 10 minutes, both defensive-minded teams settled down and didn't allow many chances the rest of the way — especially the Cougars.
"This was a nail-biter, and I'm extremely proud of the effort the girls gave today — especially in this heat," said Conant coach Jason Franco.
The muggy conditions took their toll on both teams.
"It was definitely intense, especially in these dark colors," said junior back Kelsey Foss, one of the defensive heroes in the dark blue jerseys. "But we were able to pull it out."
Loyola (23-1-4) had 3 quality shots on goal before five minutes were gone, and Cougars keeper Lindsay Fillingim was forced to make a spectacular save on a rocket by Loyola senior Carrie Schoeneberger in the fourth minute.
But Conant (20-4) was matching the Ramblers shot for shot, and senior Kaitlin Chiero just missed just 30 seconds later.
"It was up and down the field in the beginning," said Franco. "I heard the Loyola coach tell his team that they had had broken down more in the first six minutes today than they had all season, so I started thinking it was going to be a good day for us."
After Van de Linde's strike, the Conant backline kicked into high gear and the Cougars allowed only a long shot on goal by Loyola's Corey Burns with six minutes left in the half.
Conant clamped down again in the second half behind defenders Foss and senior Kelly Lomas.
Loyola's best chance came in the 70th minute, when Loyola's Caroline Zadina chased down a long ball in the box but Lomas was up to the task and kicked the ball out of harms way.
"We were working hard but there was a lot of panic (in the last 10 minutes)," said Lomas. "We were gutting it out, and the knowledge that we could go to the state finals if we won drove us on."
"They were a physical team, and so we knew we had to get rid of the ball quick so we didn't get hit," added Foss. "We used our speed against their physicality and it wound up working in our favor."
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