After Friday night's heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Manteno in penalty kicks for a trip to the Class 1A state championship game, it would have been easy enough for the St. Edward girls soccer team to pack it in and go home Saturday with their heads down and a fourth place trophy.
But that wasn't an option for a team that's won 60 games since its 2011 fourth place finish at state.
The Green Wave regrouped rather than regressed, and concluded matters in the most fitting fashion: a Corey Lepoudre cross tapped in by Allison Kruk for a 1-0 win over Rockford Christian and a third-place trophy at North Central College in Naperville.
Kruk, St. Edward's all-time leading goal scorer, capped off her last goal -- her 31st of the season and the 75th and final goal of career -- by lightly tapping in a cross fed near the left post by Lepoudre, who made a push-up the end line with her 28th assist in the 46th minute, resolving an emotional 24 hours of state soccer in the process at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
"I couldn't be more proud of them, it is so hard to come back and play a game when your dreams of being in the state championship game are gone. It's so hard emotionally and physically to get them there and they did it," St. Edward coach Tim Brieger said. "For Corey to make that one run we needed and hit the cross to Allison, it's kind of fitting it ends that way because I've seen that 60-some odd times."
The win was St. Edward's 26th win of the season, the most in Brieger's era in a single season. The 26-3 record includes Paige Dykstra's 23rd shutout in goal in her last 24 tries and the Wave's first top-3 finish at state, a better outcome than in 2008 and 2011.
"Yesterday's game does not define us, as coach Brieger said," Kruk reiterated. "And today we just reshowed everyone that we're not that team that mails games in after a hard night. We can dig deep and finish what we need to."
Much like Friday, the Wave waited until the second half to score, as neither team wanted to give up any ground. The shots were even at 8 -- although St. Edward's only one of the second half was the one that counted the most -- and Dykstra, who made 5 saves, made a sizzling stop to her right with under 20 minutes remaining on a shot by forward Haley Kittle, who will play next year at UIC with St. Edward midfielder Monica Ramirez.
St. Edward amassed 7 corner kicks to the Lions' 2 and allowed just 3 shots on goal. The Wave also kept it in the Lions' zone in the remaining seconds, refusing to see a repeat of Friday night.
"We needed to pull something from deep inside," Lepoudre said. "And at the end we were all in it and we didn't want to lose in those 28 seconds again."
It was also the first time the Royal Lions (16-4-1) had been shut out all season.
"It's frustrating to lose a game yesterday and frustrating to lose another game today," Lions' coach Kevin Obee said. "(St. Edward) is a strong defensive team, actually very defensive."
And that's how Brieger wanted it as well.
"My defense ended the way they've done all season," Brieger said. "With their hearts."