You could sense the relief on the faces of St. Edward forward Allison Kruk and midfielder Corey Lepoudre when a Willows Academy player knocked a ball out of play late in the second half, a ball both looked at each other to get, but neither could.
Kruk had been hit in the jaw by a ball earlier in the match and Lepoudre came off for her asthma at one point. And at the end of the Class 1A Westminster Christian sectional final, you could see the Green Wave were out of steam.
Which is why there was good reason that Green Wave coach Tim Brieger asked his team in practice earlier this week to set the tone early against the Eagles.
Gaining a measure of revenge over the team that beat them in the 2011 state third-place game, St. Edward beat Willows Academy 2-1 Friday to win the sectional title, the Green Wave's second sectional crown in the last three years.
Any other year and the win would have sent St. Edward to the state finals. But the IHSA has added a supersectional round to Class 1A girls soccer this year and the Wave (16-6-2) will take on Francis Parker on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Concordia University in River Forest, with the winner advancing to next weekend's state tournament at North Central College in Naperville.
Goals by Kim Smith and Kruk in the first 6 minutes was all the top-seeded Green Wave needed in Friday's win.
"It was tough. A good team effort," Kruk said. "The last couple games, they weren't the toughest games. This one we really had to dig deep all 80 minutes."
St. Edward held a 19-7 shot advantage and defenders Rena Ranallo, Kathleen Duffy and Casey Gredzieleski did a superb job of keeping the ball out of their end. But the Eagles (16-6-1) made the Wave earn it with a physical, relentless attack.
"Willows is one of the most complete teams we've ever played, they don't have a weak spot on the field," Brieger said. "They're hardworking. They attack every ball and all we talked about in practice (Thursday) was set the tone. Get them on their heels. Get a goal early, get some shots early because they are going to attack every single ball and we've kind of got to rattle them."
Smith's goal in the 3rd minute was a product of a redirect at the goal, when she busted between two Willows defenders for an open ball that she tapped in to take a 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Monica Ramirez hustled to get to a ball on the rear right side and crossed it over to Kruk near the left post. Kruk found the back of the goal for the essential game-winner.
"We knew the goalie had a tendency of coming out far," Kruk said. "So we played it to our advantage, popped one over her and I just chased it in and put in the back of the net."
Willows scored with 19 minutes left in the first half when Jacquelyn Presberg sent a ball into the box for Marilyn Prince. Her shot hit the top crossbar and barely made it over the line to make it 2-1.
St. Edward held on desperately in the second half, where Willows was limited to 1 shot. But Willows' golden opportunity, a ball that skipped its way toward the St. Edward goal with an Eagle nearby and 3 minutes left, was pounced on by goalie Paige Dykstra (3 saves).
"It got past Kathleen (Duffy) and I thought, 'oh, I have to get this,' " Dykstra said. "So I just came out and slid and the girl was right there and thank goodness my hands were right there and got it."
"When Paige made that save, you heard the crowd go, the girls all cheered," Brieger said. "I think that gave us a final push. I know it sounds random about a save, but Paige right there gave our team the energy to finish it off."