Maine West's girls soccer team made it a sensational home opener, using a 3-goal second half explosion from Rita Lopez to top Wheeling 4-0 Monday in Des Plaines.
Lopez doubled the Warriors' lead just five minutes after intermission, then helped open things up with another goal before competing her hat-trick in the 72nd minute to even Maine West's overall record at 2-2-0.
"It was nice to see the girls come out and play so much better in the second half, especially after a not-so-good first half of soccer," said Maine West first-year coach Jeff Bishop, whose club went 0-2-0 last week at the Springfest Invite hosted by St. Francis. "Once we started playing wide and getting our midfield more involved, it allowed Jo (Joanne Stanfa) and Rita (Lopez) to create a lot more chances, and it was Rita today who took advantage of them."
Darren Llewellyn's club had started in promising fashion despite playing its very first match of the 2013 season. With the Wildcats (0-1-0) playing through its standout Cindy Castillo as often as possible, they conjured up a couple of good opportunites in the early stages.
"Our first half wasn't bad -- in fact, I thought the first 25-30 minutes were pretty good considering it was our first game of the season, and their fourth," said the long-time Wheeling coach. "We created some chances, and put some pressure on them here and there, but our play kind of fell off as we got near the break. And a little while into the second half, you could see our fitness, and inexperience began to take its toll on us."
When the Wildcats had a bit of trouble clearing their own end, Alice Faraone finished what was started by Stanfa and Alma Felix, giving the hosts the only goal they'd end up needing on this cold night in the 30th minute.
Then, after a neat takeaway, all-area striker Stanfa carried to the endline and sent a marvelous crossing ball through to Lopez on the other end for an easy goal to give the Warriors a 2-goal advantage.
"I thought in the second half we possessed much better than we did in the first half, and our communication was better," said Stanfa, who scored 13 goals during her freshman season.
The pace and energy of Stanfa and Castillo was impressive to watch, with the Wildcats' captain playing hard from box-to-box while the Warriors' sophomore striker carved out several chances for her team during her 70-plus minutes of play.
"Jo would tell you she didn't have a very good night because she didn't score, but she did everything very well tonight, even if she wasn't able to get one or two into the back of the net," said Bishop.
Kelsey Webb, who along with her backline mates Bridget Burger and Taylor Iaculla helped secure the shutout for keeper Kelly Adamek, put Alexia Prosperi through from out of the back, but her shot went wide of the back post at 50 minutes.
Castillo, Yessenia Acosta and Iris Torres did their best to ignite the Wildcats attack in its search to cut the Maine West lead in half, however the trio just could not get in close enough to get anything on frame.
"We'll be OK, but it's going to take some time to get this team organized and playing at a level where they can compete," said Llewellyn. "But one thing is for sure -- they played hard for 80 minutes, and didn't fold when they got down."
A long 25-yarder from Lopez went up and over the outstretched gloves of Tejeda to make it 3-0. Then another blast from way out found its way just inside the near post eight minutes from time to put the Warriors comfortably in control.
"We've got a busy week, so this was a good way to get started," said Bishop.
Maine West will host CSL rival Waukegan on Thursday, then a strong side from the Chicago Public League in Lane Tech on Friday.