When you've reached the ultimate top of the mountain, failing to get back to that spot again can seem like a failure.
And while the St. Francis girls soccer team lost Saturday and will not defend its Class 2A title this spring, the 2013 campaign was far from a failure. The No. 2 Spartans fell 1-0 to top-seeded Fenwick in the Riverside-Brookfield sectional championship, yet the 17-2 squad has little reason to hold its head.
The Friars scored off a restart following a yellow card call that went against St. Francis just when it started to appear as if the teams might remain scoreless in regulation. But Cali Pyzdrowski blasted a free kick from 51 yards out that one-hopped the crossbar and then was headed home by teammate Sydney Jensen for the game's only score.
St. Francis coach Jim Winslow didn't agree with the card but did credit the Friars for executing the play well and taking advantage of the situation. The score was just the fifth goal allowed all year by St. Francis.
"I agree with the foul, but I don't agree with the yellow card," said Winslow, who guided the Spartans to a super sectional berth two years ago and then the 2012 state title. "That's a game-changing call. But the kid hit a nice ball in there, give her credit for that."
St. Francis didn't have a ton of golden opportunities to score itself, but did come awfully close to striking first just eight minutes into the game. Kaity Bucaro's corner kick was headed on by the Spartans' Anna Vonderhaar only to have Fenwick keeper Jesse Cwik punch the ball out just as it appeared headed to the back of the net.
Each team had 3 shots on goal in the first half, with the Friars defenders saving one possible goal with Cwik out of position, and with Spartans goalie Jenna DuTusa stopping a pair of serious threats, including a shot by Bridget Hillsman on a short breakaway.
The Friars (18-5-4), who advance to Tuesday's supersectional at Lewis University, held a 5-1 edge in shots on goal on the second half yet the score was still 0-0 before that late free kick.
"We tip our hats to St. Francis. They are such a nice team and so well coached," Fenwick coach Robert Watson said. "I love their system and they have phenomenal players. We absolutely just tooth-and-nailed our way through that."
The stunned Spartans had plenty of tears afterward, but Vonderhaar said the players will still have plenty of positives to reflect upon.
"We're really proud of what we've brought to the program. I think we kind of lost the momentum at the beginning of the second half and we struggled to get it back," the senior said. "It was a very good season. We're proud of how we played this whole season … we still accomplished good things, we just didn't win this important game."
Winslow said his players have set the bar high, but he expects the program to continue to thrive. "For this group it's been an amazing run," he said. "It's a great group of seniors. Three of them are going on to play and rest are going on to get their college education, which is awesome.
"My first year that was the thing to do, was to really raise expectations because I don't think it was the expectation. Now, the first year we got to the super and last year we won the whole thing. For next year we've got a great group of kids coming in, so we'll be back."