Conant strolled into Friday's regional final round of the girls soccer postseason by defeating host Rolling Meadows 5-0 Tuesday afternoon in a state tournament opener at Robert A. Hoese Field.
The second-seeded Cougars (13-4-2) will face the winner of the Bartlett-Wheaton North match, which was scheduled to be played Tuesday but was suspended due to severe weather conditions. Bartlett and Wheaton North will try again at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Rolling Meadows.
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In the Conant-Meadows game, there was an air of inevitability about the outcome as soon as Cougars junior Leah Celarek found the back of the net after just three minutes.
But Mike Drenth's young Meadows team didn't wilt in the humid air, as the Mustangs fought hard the entire first period despite conceding another goal, this one from freshman Emily Mazurek, who had a hand in four of the visitors' goals.
"It was tough giving up that early first goal, but I thought in that first half, we played with (Conant) the best we could, and for about 7-8 minutes we were dangerous and created a few chances," said Drenth, who saw seniors Mary Collins, Allie Kemph and Sarah Ott player their final games. "And when you look at how many freshmen we had out there for most of this game, I'd have to say the future is bright for Rolling Meadows soccer."
Celarek exhibited her predatory instincts when she finished what Mazurek and Sidney O'Keeffe started with her 12th goal of the season. Mazurek rounded out the first-half scoring with her 12th of the spring when she curled a 20-yard blast just out of reach of keeper Kelsey Nallon, who turned in a quality effort despite the Cougars' 5 goals.
The Mustangs were then able to settle in, and with the freshman quartet of Claire Preissing, Katherine Perille, Madeline Rebsamen and Taylor Gunn making their mark, the attack of the home side sprung to life.
Gunn went wide of keeper Haley Anderson after a wonderful serve from Collins at 28 minutes, just after a nicely played counter initiated by Kyra Spiwak, and Rebsamen saw Perille spray her shot off the mark.
"It always helps to score first during the postseason, and it obviously helped us quite a bit, but after Rolling Meadows found their game, they made us work, and put some pressure on us in the last half of the first period," said Conant coach Jason Franco.
The Cougars quickly reasserted themselves after intermission, and O'Keeffe put the game out of reach with two quick strikes just 60 seconds apart, with Mazurek turning creator at 57 and 58 minutes.
Senior Bianca Madonia supplied a fifth goal in the 62nd minute, which ended the day for most of Franco's starters.
"They (Rolling Meadows) looked a little tired in that second half, and Mazurek kind of took over by unlocking them along the back to help us get a win to move on," said Franco.
Anderson recorded her seventh shutout of the season in the victory.