Two of the state's best girls soccer programs, Neuqua Valley and Barrington, met Saturday in a nonconference breakfast special on the turf at Barrington Community Stadium.
With goals on either side of the half from the sophomore duo of Kelsey Muniz and Jenna Szczesny, the host Fillies outlasted their guests 2-0 in the season opener for both of these high-profile Class 3A teams.
"It was as pretty good game, and we turned in a solid effort for most of the day, but we've still got a long way to go," said Barrington coach Ryan Stengren after watching his squad battle coach Joe Moreau's club on yet another dreadfully cold day in early March. "You can see that Neuqua is going to be a terrific team later on, and I feel we have the players and potential to be there as well, but I am sure Joe will agree there's not too much to take out of today's result -- except that we finally got to play, and we both came out of it healthy."
Health is something the Wildcats' successful coach cannot take for granted, particularly after hearing the news just a few days ago that his top player, Zoey Goralski, suffered a torn ACL during a recent U.S. National Team under-17 match against Germany and will be lost for the season.
"That's obviously a tough break for Zoey and we all feel really bad for her, and for us, there's no way you replace an all-state player who also happens to be a national team player. But we'll do our best, and go forward from here," said Moreau, who still has a wonderfully talented team, and it showed ever now and then on Saturday despite the 2-goal decision.
"We were all heart-broken when we heard about Zoey, but now it just means everyone will need to step up their play to help make up for her loss on the field," said Wildcats senior midfielder Gianna Dal Pozzo, who turned in a strong 80 minutes.
The Fillies nearly opened in spectacular fashion in the early stages when all-state midfielder Molly Pfeiffer thumped her header off the bar after she met Mia Calamari's inward swinging corner just minutes into the match.
"We were kind of flat at the start, but I really felt once we got going, we had most of the possession and run of play, but were just were not very sharp in the final third," said Dal Pozzo.
The Wildcats' captain, along with Katie Ciesiulka, found forwards Shannon Donlon, Sabrina Georgeff and Kiely Czerwinski on a regular basis, but the Fillies had enough defensive organization to keep the visitors far enough away from keeper Hannah Luedtke, who was not tested with any really dangerous chances on the day.
"Neuqua had the ball a lot today, but we kind of expected that with them playing five in the middle," said Stengren. "But I thought we did create the better scoring chances, and we could have had maybe one or two others if we finished on the chances."
Calamari initiated the only goal the Fillies would need on a free kick, which Aimee Pierce flicked forward toward an opportunistic Muniz, who scored the first goal of the season for her club at 12 minutes.
"Even though we have a lot back from last year, we still have our share of new players, and it was good to see one of them (Muniz) make a contribution in her first game with the varsity," said Pfeiffer, who has signed on to play at Marquette next fall.
Szczesny broke free down the far side in the 23rd minute, but Wildcats keeper Courtney Keefer extended far to her right to turn the would-be goal around the post and keep the Fillies advantage at 1 heading at intermission.
Poor communication led to some trouble for the Fillies just after the break, and Chelsea Meyers had an opportunity to stroll in. If not for an alert Luedtke, who raced off her line to challenge Meyers, the Wildcats might have equalized.
Just before the hour mark, Szczesny doubled the Fillies' lead when she roared up the right side and fired past Keefer from outside the box. Pfeiffer got the assist for the goal in the 56th minute.
Later, Dal Pozzo shot over the bar from 20 yards, and Czerwinski and Meyers worked a nice 1-2 combination to get into the area. But the Fillies' backline led by Meredith Slott and Emily Morin tightened up, and after that, the visitors wouldn't get any closer to Luedtke and the Fillies' net.
"Not a bad day at all for us, and despite the terrible conditions, we saw some good things out there today from the girls, and some things we'll have to work on," said Moreau.