Sometimes it doesn't take much of a shift to turn an offense from constantly being close to scoring to finding the back of the net.
St. Charles East didn't radically alter its game plan after 40 scoreless minutes against St. Edward on Saturday. But what changes the Saints made worked as they emerged 2-0 victors in a fast-paced match.
The contest was played on Concordia University's wide artificial surface thanks to connections between St. Edward and Concordia. On a warm day with little wind, both teams took advantage of a surface better than either team's home natural grass field.
The Saints scored their goals within 2 minutes of each other in the opening 5 minutes of the second half. One came off Amanda Hilton's foot and the other off the senior's head.
"It's obviously the point of soccer, to get more goals than the other team," Hilton said. "But I think that whoever scores on this team, everybody's happy for them. We just need to get the job done. Today it was me. But a lot of times, it's other girls who contribute."
St. Charles East (3-0-1) began to surge in the final quarter-hour of the first half. Hilton forced a diving save from St. Edward keeper Paige Dykstra 12 minutes before halftime. Shortly after, Julia Peterson won the ball in midfield, fed Shannon Rasmussen, whose cross was touched just wide by Hilton. In the final minutes of the half, Dykstra twice punched the ball to relieve pressure.
The Saints made adjustments at halftime, one involving Hilton playing further forward. Within 2 minutes, Kelli Santo Paolo and Mallory Mollenhauer combined before Mollenhauer found Darcy Cunningham free on the right wing. Cunningham cut the ball back low through the penalty areas and Hilton shot over the bar.
"I made a couple of adjustments at halftime, changing some personnel around," St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison said. "Just a little switch in formation. But it comes down to the fact that you've got to attack the ball. In the first half, we weren't attacking the ball. St. Ed's girls were hungrier and if they weren't winning the first ball, they were winning the second one."
That proved to be a literal warning shot. Two minutes later, Sara Buetow won the ball in midfield, fed Hilton, who rode challenged as the top of the penalty area before shooting the Saints into a 1-0 lead.
"I definitely wouldn't have scored if I hadn't gotten some of the passes I did," Hilton said. "So I credit my teammates. But it's a great feeling to come out and get the two and for us to get the win."
Ninety seconds later, Hilton doubled the Saints' lead. Santo Paolo and Cunningham combined on the right wing and Cunningham sent the ball into the penalty area. Hilton headed once and it was deflected into the air. Hilton reached the ball a second time and headed into the back of the net.
"It was a scramble in the box, but I'm glad I came away with it and pushed my way through it," Hilton said.
From that point, the Saints dominated the match. On successive attacks 12 minutes into the half, Cunningham and then Rasmussen hit the crossbar.
Santo Paolo, in particular, had a strong match in midfield for the Saints.
"In the second half, we won the midfield battle, and that opened things for us," Jennison said of the junior. "She's a quality player, a good passer of the ball who moves side to side. She breaks up play very well. You want people to do the job, and if everyone does their job, the team's going to be successful."
The match proved to be an unbelievably high-quality contest between teams without loss through the early portion of the season. St. Charles East showed again why it is considered one of the strongest teams in Class 3A. St. Edward (3-1), a power in Class 1A, stayed with the Saints through the opening 40 minutes and had chances in the second half despite ultimately losing the match.
"That's a very good team there in St. Ed's," Jennison said. "I told Coach (Tim Brieger) that it's the best team I've seen them have. That's some quality opposition for us today."
The Green Wave had chances as well and Saints keeper Kendra Sheehan had to palm dangerous balls away to safety on a number of occasions.
"Obviously they dominated all the statistical categories, but I thought we hung with them," Brieger said.
One of the best chances fell to Allison Kruk eight minutes into the match following a right-to-left low cross on the ground by Megan Kearney. Kruk forced a diving save from Sheehan and the Green Wave senior forward was dangerous through much of the match.
"If we tap that in, maybe it's different," Brieger said. "You've got a 3A against a 1A and we were in it. I thought we really moved it. But as the game wore on, we struggled with their size and speed."
With 4 minutes left, St. Edward had a free kick just outside the penalty area. Monica Ramirez took the kick and found Ashley Lopez free in the penalty area, but Lopez's shot went just over the crossbar.
"In the second half, we had a couple with Corey (Lepoudre) and Alex Zeller," Brieger said. "I'm pleased."