Rolling Meadows and coach Mike Drenth have paid the price early this season for having such a young varsity roster.
But Wednesday night, Drenth and his team cashed in for a big win.
Mary Collins' header at 30 minutes held up the rest of the way for the Mustangs (1-4-0, 1-1-0), who got their first victory of the season by topping visiting Fremd 1-0.
"This is all pretty exciting," said Collins, who presides over a group which in this match featured seven freshmen in the lineup when the opening whistle sounded.
"I could not be more proud of the girls tonight," said Drenth, who will lean heavily on Collins and two other seniors, Sarah Ott and Allie Kemph, as his new players go through the usual growing pains associated with play at the varsity level in a conference with so much talent and depth. "It was a win we really needed to keep our spirits and energy high, especially after losing our first three. But it was also a win to show the girls if they continue to work hard, good things will come their way."
After an opening 10 minutes of little consequence, the Vikings (1-2-1, 1-1-0) began to target both Mary-Kate Schiffer and Katie Zara, and with Karolina Cholewa and Jessica Kopec finding the senior duo on a more regular basis, the backline of Kemph, Ott, Nora Rasche and freshman Hannah Ungurean were put under pressure more than Drenth would have liked.
"We're so young all over the place this year," he said, "but fortunately our experience is in the back. And as a group we would bend quite a few times, but never break -- especially in the second half when I felt we played better from back to front."
After its 4-goal eruption last week against Elk Grove, the Vikings looked to be ready for a repeat of that scoring outburst. It didn't work out that way because of the combination of sound defense from Rolling Meadows and Fremd's own inability to finish its chances.
"We were cleaner and sharper in the final third against Elk Grove, but tonight it was a case of that one extra touch we didn't need to do, and not enough composure, or patience when we got in close," said Fremd coach Steve Keller. "When you add that all up, you end up like we did tonight."
The Mustangs stuned their guests when Ott's looping free kick to the back post found the head of Collins, who redirected her attempt to the wide-open post, where keeper Surina Lewandowski had no chance.
"I wasn't even sure where the ball was after my header, but I was sure glad it ended up in the back of the net," said the Mustangs captain, who nearly doubled the advantage with a wicked free kick that rattled the bar in the 36th minute.
With a strong wind at their back, the Vikings roared out of the blocks after the intermission and created countless opportunities, yet found themselves unable to solve freshman keeper Kelsey Nallan and her backline, and a midfield that turned in a high work rate and some quality tackling in order to slow or stop the likes of Cholewa, Kopec and Liz Flavin.
Kemph blocked a close-range shot from Zara after a well-paced cross from Schiffer. Later, Schiffer steered a shot wide after running onto a Caroline Freeman ball over the top.
The Mustangs committed more numbers back in order to slow a revved-up attack from the Vikings. Another header from Schiffer went wide before Sarah Aftelak drove two of her shots on frame; Nallan saved confidently both times.
Despite the nervous moments in the Mustangs' end, some terrific work from Collins and the freshman duo of Katherine Perille and Claire Preissing helped preserve the win.
"I am really proud of my teammates, who fought so hard tonight, and marked with a lot of intensity to help keep Fremd from scoring," said Collins.
"There's talent on this team," said Keller, "and we've got some players who can be dangerous, create, and knock the ball around. But we've also got a long way to go before we get to the level were I feel we can be. But we've got to work hard to get there, and sort some things out in the meantime."
Fremd will host Hersey on Friday in Palatine, while Rolling Meadows welcomes Wheeling in an MSL East match on the same night.
Conant 3, Hoffman Estates 2: Sidney O'Keefe, Bianca Madonia and Emily Mazurek scored in an MSL West win for the Cougars.
Natalie Nagrant scored both goals for the Hawks.
Barrington 3, Prospect 0: Jenna Szczesny scored twice and Mia Calamari once to as Barrington keeper Hannah Luedtke made 5 saves to earn the shutout.
Buffalo Grove 4, Palatine 1: Kelli Zickert scored twice for Buffalo Grove, and Kim Herzog and Sabrina Guercio also found the back of the net to lift the Bison as Allie Ingham and Skylar Groth provided assists.
Carolyn Soukup scored for Palatine.