There was a mad rush at the final whistle to get to the center of the field, where St. Charles East's players established their team celebration at the end of Tuesday's 2-1 Class 3A Conant sectional semifinal win over St. Charles North.
The bench raced from its seats, keeper Kendra Sheehan and the defense ran from the north end zone and everyone met in a black-shirted group hug to mark the team's first victory over St. Charles North since 2005.
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"I'm so proud of what they did in terms of their performance tonight," St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison said. "It's no doubt the highlight of the season and the highlight of my time here in the way they came out tonight. They were on a different level."
St. Charles East (16-4-2) advances to Friday's 4 p.m. sectional title match. The Saints play the winner of Wednesday's Geneva-Conant contest. That match was postponed due to thunderstorms which elongated Tuesday's game. The Vikings and Cougars kick off Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
"This team is taking huge strides," St. Charles East senior Shannon Rasmussen said. "Honestly, it wasn't about playing North. It was about winning the match and getting farther. We were worried about doing our thing and working as a team rather than who we were playing."
The Saints took the lead after 20 minutes when Amanda Hilton and Anna Corirossi combined in midfield before Hilton sent a leading pass to Kelli Santo Paolo -- who took the ball between defenders and hit a low, rolling shot into the net at the left post.
"It's the best feeling ever," Santo Paolo. "(Hilton) always plays those balls. No one was on me, so I took my time with the shot."
With St. Charles East continuing to pressure the North Stars net, Rasmussen doubled the lead 14 minutes before halftime when she hit a right-sided free from 22 yards into the net under the crossbar and high into the left side netting.
"I haven't scored that much this year," Rasmussen said. "It was the best feeling to help my team out and make something happen."
St. Charles North (17-5-2) recovered immediately and halved the deficit when Hanna Durocher passed to Sophie Pohl, who hit a hard rolling shot into the net.
"We say it every year, that in high school sports, you've got to get a little lucky," St. Charles North coach Ruth Vostal said. "I think we were unlucky with the two goals that we gave up. It was our mistakes that caused those goals."
St. Charles East pressured early in the second half, but the North Stars hit back, starting 15 minutes into the half with a period of sustained pressure. Still, the near-defining moment of the 21 minutes of the second half came when Rasmussen passed to Sophie Jendrzeczyk, who hit the post.
Shortly after, lightning was sighted in the skies north of the stadium, and the teams were taken from the field with 17:41 showing on the second half clock and an hour-long wait began.
"At 2-1 with the break, it was going to be a case of mental toughness," Jennison said. "You're going to find out how big the 17 minutes are."
The North Stars had chances to tie the match. Jenny Barr shot over the crossbar, Alyssa Brandt hit a free kick that was saved and Brandt hit a corner kick which Lizzie Parrilli shot over the crossbar.
"We say that you have to walk off the field with no regret, and I couldn't ask for a better fight," Vostal said. "We're down two starters and we're still fighting."
Saints winger Rion Gaffney left the field on a golf cart with a leg injury while forward Hannah Rawson was taken from the stadium in an ambulance after collapsing to the turf late in the match.
"We've got two girls badly hurt, so that takes a bit of the gloss off it," Jennison said.
In a tough match for both teams, St. Charles North defender Megan O'Leary also left with a leg injury in the first half and did not return. The North Stars were also missing injured Danielle Noverini.