Deanna Hecht popped up with a crucial 78th-minute equalizer to give visiting Huntley's girls soccer team a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Hersey on Tuesday morning at Roland R. Goins Stadium in Arlington Heights.
Hecht's left-footed drive rescued the Red Raiders (1-0-1) from what seemed like certain defeat as Hersey looked to hold onto its 1-goal advantage, which it earned when Lauren Gierman struck from 30 yards at 24 minutes.
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"I was glad to see such a well put-together goal which led to a great left-footed strike from Deanna, because she is quite capable of doing that, and more," said Huntley coach Kris Grabner, who last weekend watched his club defeat another Mid-Suburban League opponent when the Red Raiders edged Palatine 1-0. "To be honest, we turned in a rather lackluster first-half performance. Some of that was due to Hersey, and some to us. Our warm-up and preparation was poor, and that bled into a less than sparkling first 40 minutes, and we were probably fortunate to be chasing just one goal at the break."
The Huskies (0-1-1) who were still smarting from a 5-0 loss last week to high-flying division rival Buffalo Grove, got off on the front foot thanks in part to some good work from its back line of Megan Brant, Kayla Knauss, Sara Korff and Sara Magnuson, and the duo of Lauren Gierman and Casey Weyhrich, who were dangerous nearly every time they touched the ball.
"We really struggled against Buffalo Grove, but we've got so many new players this year, and it's just going to take us some time to sort things out, and get everyone comfortable with each other and the role everyone is going to play," said Gierman, an all-area player last season. "Today was so much better, so it was good to see us make some progress after that loss last week."
The junior midfielder, who is a first-rate dead-ball artist, put two free kicks on frame which required keeper Jessica Galason to save. Then the all-MSL pair of Gierman and Weyhrich got together to give the Huskies the lead with Gierman driving her 30-yard blast up and just over the outstretched gloves of Galason.
With their confidence soaring, the Huskies quickly came down and nearly doubled their lead when Weyhrich's angled shot forced another save from Galason.
Knauss came forward at 30 minutes and had a nice go from the near post, and four minutes later, Galason took another Gierman free kick out of the air, with both Weyhrich and Kaitlyn Smetana just a step away from the Red Raiders keeper.
"In the first half, we did some very good things in our attack, and possessed the ball pretty well, and created some chances, which was a big improvement than our first game of the year against Buffalo Grove," said Hersey coach Brad Abel, who guided his club to its fifth consecutive MSL Cup appearance last spring. "Unfortunately, our second half wasn't as good as the first. We obviously got tired, and (Huntley) started finding No. 7 (Delaney Loprieno) and No. 2 (Taryn Jakubowski) in the middle, and we found ourselves defending and chasing, and that's when things broke down for us a little bit."
Grabner went to a 3-5-2 formation after the intermission, and with Hecht and Sam Bessey now up top, playing with plenty of energy and pace, along with the extra work from Loprieno, Jakubowski, Katie Cosentino and Abigali Nordeen in the middle, Huntley was able to get the edge in possession for much of the second period.
Off a long throw, Hecht was unable to get a good look on frame. Huskies junior keeper Morgan Harris stopped that chance, and eight minutes later she pulled down a fierce 30-yarder from Loprieno.
With time running out, and against the run of play, the Red Raiders found the equalizer.
Parks and Jakubowski quickly moved the play in order to free up Hecht, and the sophomore did the rest, teeing up from outside the box to unload a wicked shot past Harris, who had no chance on the shot.
In a frantic final few seconds of regulation, Smetana and Magnuson were able to take another Gierman free kick into the box. But Galason stood firm and showed her mettle to save the day for the Red Raiders.
"It was good to see the girls come alive in the second half, but we obviously have a way to go in a lot of areas," said Grabner.
The Huskies' busy spring break continues when it hosts Plainfield North at 11 a.m. Wednesday before finishing up with Maine South on Saturday.
"Plainfield will be a tough challenge for us, but we need to be in games against teams that can play in order to get some of our new players comfortable with a much quicker game than they are used to," Abel said. "We need to keep working, and learn to play within our system, and when do, we can then compete with most everyone."