Kelli Zickert and her teammates set Buffalo Grove on a winning course Tuesday night in Glenview, as the Bison netted an impressive 2-0 victory over Loyola in the Class 3A Glenbrook South supersectional.
The Bison advance into the last four of the state tournament against top-ranked Naperville North (20-0-2), which defeated Collinsville 2-0 Tuesday night at Normal Community High School. Buffalo Grove and Naperville North meet in a state semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday at North Central College in Naperville
"The message to the girls has been this simple -- go get yourselves a win tonight, and make some history for yourselves," said proud Buffalo Grove coach Pat Dudle. "It had been a long time since we've been to the state tournament (1995). But that was then, and this is now. This team really wanted to win out and be the first team to get downstate since that '95 team. And tonight they went out and played a terrific 80 minutes of soccer against a very good team in Loyola."
There were several reasons for this historic victory by the Bison (25-2-1).
In addition to the ice-cold finishing touch provided by Kelli Zickert, an airtight defensive unit limited 35-goal scorer Devin Burns to just a few good looks on frame. BG keeper Shannon O'Connor along with defenders Jessica Kovach and Kelly VandeMerkt just didn't allow chances as their teammates fought and defended magnificently for 80 minutes.
"We knew that No. 14 (Burns) was dangerous, and we had to deny her the ball whenever we could," said VandeMerkt. " I thought Jessica and I did pretty well with that, while Shannon (Guercio), Sara Brawly and JayJay (Lowery) gave us support, while winning most of the balls in our end."
"We came in pretty confident that all of us could do the job," said Lowery, "and I feel we did just that while keeping Burns from getting anything really dangerous on goal."
Coach Craig Snower came into the match knowing his Ramblers would have more than BG to overcome. Loyola was also fighting history, as the past five champions of the sectional championship match between Loyola and New Trier hadn't met with much success in their subsequent matchups.
"During the past five years, whoever wins between New Trier or us has always lost their next game, and until one of us figures out how to come out with the same passion, energy and emotion we show in that game, the streak will likely continue," said Snower.
The Bison showed more energy early, and it was apparent Loyola (23-3-1) was struggling to match it.
As it had in the first half of its 3-1 victory over Glenbrook South in its sectional opener, and again against Hersey in the sectional final, the Bison attack was crisp, incisive and too potent for the Ramblers, who defended with all their might.
"I thought we did a very good job of playing our game to keep the ball in their end for most of the first half, but I was really proud of the way our midfield tracked back to defend and really slow their attack down, especially their playmaker, Tori Iatarola," said Kelli Zickert.
An anxious Bison crowd burst to life when the junior ran freely onto a Kovach free kick serve and redirected an unstoppable ball the other way, past keeper Brittany San Roman at 46 minutes.
The goal revved up the big BG fan base, and also seemed to energize the players. The Bison hounded and hammered from all angles going forward, making it even tougher for the Ramblers to play through Iatarola, and both Devin Burns and her all-state sister, Corey, whom Snower pushed forward with a quarter hour remaining as he searched for the equalizer.
But the Bison continued to out-possess the Ramblers, and in keeping the ball away from them, the final 15 minutes on the clock disappeared quicker than Snower would have liked.
"We just didn't come out with the emotion needed to compete in a game like this, and when you don't, you're not going to get the result you want," said Snower.
The Bison strengthend their grip on the match when Kelli Zickert outworked two defenders, then beat San Roman before slotting under the senior keeper less than two minutes from time.
"This is the dream we all had," said a teary eyed, elated Zickert, "and it came true."