It took nearly 80 minutes, but in the end Hersey took control of its Mid-Suburban League girls soccer opener Friday night in Hoffman Estates.
With overtime nearing, a strike from Kayla Knauss helped the Huskies earn a 1-0 victory over Conant in a key early match between two of the best soccer clubs in the league.
Hersey improved to 5-1-0 overall and 1-0-0 against the MSL.
"This was big for us," said Hersey coach Darren Llewellyn, who earlier in the week let his players know he wasn't happy with what he saw following a loss at Huntley last week. "I was really anxious to see how we would come out tonight after having some conversations with the team in regards to several things I didn't like -- and I have to say what I really liked what I saw in the early going. It was nice to see them come out and play the way I know they can."
"I was impressed with how athletic Hersey was, and how much better they played into the wind than we did," said Conant coach Jason Franco, whose club goes to 2-1-0 on the season, and 0-1-0 in the MSL after the loss. Roaring winds and temps near freezing greeted these two sides, but the visitors wasted no time in putting the Cougars (2-1-0, 0-1-0) on the defensive. The duo of Lauren Gierman and Jessica Schmidt caused plenty of trouble, while Abby Wendell did her part managing at midfieled.
"That was easily Abby's best game of the year, and her work in the middle really made a difference out there for us tonight," said Llewellyn.
Hersey defenders Knauss, Megan Brant and Annie Korff were able to keep Conant's talented duo of Leah Celarek and Bianca Madonia from using the strong winds at their back to their advantage.
Madonia ran onto a loose ball at 17 minutes and skimmed the bar with her long-range angled shot. Some nine minutes later, she set up Celarek, but the Cougars' leading scorer was wide with her attempt.
Drew Wentzel was called upon to parry a ball headed toward the end line from Korff after a Gierman corner. Moments later, Knauss' block inside the box turned away a close-range shot from Sidney O'Keefe.
"Coach told us he wasn't happy with us after that loss at Huntley, and how important it was for us to come out and play hard from the very beginning, and tonight I feel like we did right from the start," said Knauss.
The Huskies lost Schmidt to an ankle injury just four minutes after intermission on a play which led to a free kick from Gierman from just off the edge. Haley Anderson saved that 20-yard strike, then made her best stop of the match when Gierman unloaded a right-footer which seemed earmarked for an empty back post at 57 minutes.
As the winds picked up, both sides struggled with possession, yet most of the play in the final quarter hour was in the Cougars' end as they were unable to find Celarek, Madonia and Nicole Lorenz in the middle to fuel their attack.
"Hersey kind of gets you to play a little frantic, and that's exactly what we did, especially in the second half, so you have to credit them for keeping us from playing the way we wanted to," said Franco.
At 78 minutes, Knauss drove her blistering drive off the outstretched gloves of Anderson.
"I was looking to pass, then just let a shot go, but to be honest, it was kind of a blur," the Hersey senior said with a smile.
Buffalo Grove 3, Hoffman Estates 0: Jessica Kovach, Skylar Groth and Georgette Topalis scored for the Bison while Groth and Colleen Zickert each had an assist.
Goalkeeper Sarah O'Connor recorded the shutout.
Schaumburg 2, Rolling Meadows 0: Brittany Reinhart scored in the first half with an assist from Christina Kim, and Lexi Awdziejczyk had a second-half goal with an assist from Reinhart to lift the host Saxons in an MSL crossover.
Prospect 7, Wheeling 0: Martina Kowalczuk scored a hat trick and added an assist, and Sarah LaCost netted 2 goals and added an assist as the Knights won their MSL East opener.
Megan Rickett and Elaine Tomko shared the shutout in net for the Knights (1-2).
Barrington 5, Palatine 0: Lauren Szczesny scored twice and Maesyn Poidomani, Annalise Avers and Kelsey Muniz had the other goals as the host Fillies rolled in the MSL West opener.