Known for much of the season for its second-half displays, Geneva's girls soccer team changed its approach for Saturday's regional title match with Glenbard North at Burgess Field.
The Vikings moved forward from the opening whistle and tried to put the Panthers under pressure. The shift in emphasis paid dividends when Courtney Lardas scored in the sixth minute of the match and as Geneva moved toward what ended as a 4-2 victory.
"Usually, we're a second half team and we don't always have our guard up at the beginning," Geneva junior Mary Landry said. "This game, we came out and fought hard and we got it right away. That really boosts our spirits."
The regional title is Geneva's fifth in six years and moves the Vikings into a 6:30 p.m. sectional semifinal on Tuesday against host school Conant. The sectional has a certain Tri-Cities flavor as the Vikings-Cougars match follows a 4:30 p.m. semifinal involving St. Charles North and St. Charles East.
"We really emphasized that once the playoffs hit, you can't be a second half team," Geneva coach Megan Owens said. "You need to be able to play whistle to whistle. (Friday), looking at some of the scores, there were a lot of goals given up the first minutes of the first half and the second half as well. We knew we had to go right at it from the first whistle."
Lardas' goal owed much to the offensive application of Mary Landry, who took the ball to the end line in the right channel of the penalty area and cut the ball back just before it went out of play. Lardas met the ball unmarked at the left post and scored.
"They just played a tremendous game," Owens said. "Glenbard North had a great season and they fought the whole game, and we fought the whole game too. I couldn't be prouder of this group. They're working hard right now."
Geneva (14-4-2) continued to attack and doubled its lead 23 minutes into the match. Hope Goodman sent a pass from the left that found Landry in a gap between defenders. Landry dribbled into the penalty area and scored from 8 yards with a shot to the left post.
"We looked for holes in their defense," Landry said. "We looked to play it through and there was always someone on the end of it."
With Glenbard North (14-7) still trying to regain a footing in the match, Geneva scored a crucial third goal. Allie Mikos took the ball from a Glenbard North defender in the right corner and fed Landry, who cut the ball back and scored with a shot that went off the left post and into the net.
Glenbard North had moments of enterprise early in the match and was especially dangerous on Allie Pogue throw-ins. The Panthers reduced the deficit 9 minutes before halftime when a Pogue throw-in came to Amanda Biondo, who headed in at the left post to cut the Geneva lead to 3-1.
"We controlled the first 4 minutes," Pogue said. "Then we gave up a goal and we really slowed down because it kind of hit us."
The Panthers surged at the start of the second half and Pogue had a shot saved after 8 minutes. Shortly after, the Vikings' defense cleared a loose ball from inside the 6-yard box.
"I felt we've got nothing to be ashamed of," Glenbard North coach Dave Stanfield said. "We played against a really good team. We tried to address some things at halftime and we had a good spell at the start of the second half. But the third goal was tough to give up."
Geneva also had chances in this crucial period of the match, including a Michaela Loebel shot that was saved and a Landry header from an Annie Waldoch cross that was also saved.
When the fifth goal of the match was scored -- Geneva was the celebrating team -- and Megan Fitz' goal from close range with 20:13 left put the result beyond doubt.
Glenbard North scored through Megan Megan Michela with 4 minutes to play. The Panthers finished their most successful season in Stanfield's nine years as coach, a year in which they tied for second in the DuPage Valley Conference and defeated Naperville North.
"This season, I feel like we came together as a team really well," Pogue said. "We brought an intensity to every game really well. When we did well was when we were composed with the ball. I think this game, we just didn't get it on net as much, or in-net obviously."
Pogue is one of only five seniors on this year's Glenbard North team.
"This was our first year, I think, in 16 years, that we won our first regional game," Pogue said. "Being in this game was a privilege. But we really wanted to push the limits of the program, and that's how we did it in every single game."
The future, however, looks bright for the program.
"This group of seniors have been with varsity since they were freshmen," Stanfield said. "You forget there's a difference between a sophomore starter and a senior starter, both mentally and physically. Those girls have really done well together and given us leadership. But we have nine juniors coming back."