Some things seemed incredibly familiar for St. Charles East's girls soccer team at halftime of Saturday's Class 3A title match against New Trier.
The Saints trailed 1-0 after surrendering an early goal and having dominated the rest of the half. Then the school's many fans got to their feet and started to make noise. That scenario had helped propel St. Charles East to a semifinal victory over Lincoln-Way North the night before.
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There wasn't to be any second half magic, though the Saints pushed and probed and worked throughout the 40 minutes against a Trevians team that allowed only 7 goals all season -- and didn't allow any goals in the title match.
That left Sarah Connors' seventh-minute long free kick as the only goal of the match, gave the Trevians their fourth state title and left the Saints in second place.
Long after the match, Saints coach Paul Jennison said to junior Darcy Cunningham, "If I'd told you at the beginning of the season that you'd be wearing that medal there, you'd have taken it wouldn't you?"
Cunningham nodded her head.
"The performance was good enough to win a state title," Jennison said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of these girls. They justified the fact that they were here. I am just so proud of them."
The Saints (19-5-5) returned to the state finals this year for the first time since 2000. For all the new fans, there were plenty of former players, parents and coaches who made their way to Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, some wearing Saints gear from many years ago.
"The best part of this has been the well-wishes from people who have come before," Jennison said. "I told the girls before the game that 'as you look around the gym, you see a lot of state banners and you don't know anyone that went before you. But they know who you are and you made believe again.'"
From the midpoint of the season, the Saints began to build momentum, then scored in bunches through the tournament and rolled through the regional, sectional and supersectional before Friday's 3-1 semifinal win over Lincoln-Way North, which set Saturday's match with New Trier.
"What a ride," St. Charles East senior Amanda Hilton said. "This team came so far from the beginning. We did it for ourselves, for the team and the coaches, the fans, the school and the alums. This was for everyone. We put St. Charles East soccer back on the map and that was our goal."
For this year's seniors, losing the state championship game meant an end to their time in the program -- but that would have happened even if they had won. So there were plenty of hugs, but not so many tears.
"It was a really close game and we gave it our all," St. Charles East senior Rion Gaffney said. "We left it all on the field. We have no regrets about where we stand today. Second in state: that's pretty amazing."
The Saints fans lingered and the team came to their portion of the grandstand and sang the school's fight song. After the fans had to leave the stadium, they moved to the area south of the grandstand, where the Saints had to walk to leave the playing field, where there was more lingering and remembering the season that just finished. Since its first appearance in the state finals in 1990, St. Charles East had won eight state championships, finished third twice and now this year's runner-up finish.
"We always say before the game that if you can look at each other in the eyes and say that you left it all on the field, you played perfect," St. Charles East senior Shannon Rasmussen said. "I think that's what we did today. All I know is everyone gave 100 percent effort and we did everything we could. We didn't stop after that goal -- we pushed harder."
New Trier (30-1) attacked from the opening whistle and Maddie Mulford hit the crossbar within the first 2 minutes of play. Six minutes into the match, Maggie Armstrong forced a save from Saints keeper Kendra Sheehan. On their next attacking move, a free kick set up Connors' long-range strike, which went high into the goal.
From that moment, the Saints attacked. Rasmussen had a long free kick saved; Anna Corirossi fed Cunningham, who had a close-range shot saved; Cunningham ran left-to-right across the top of the penalty area before her shot was saved and Hilton had a sharp shot saved.
"Once something happens where we realize we can play with these teams, we start dominating play," Corirossi said. "We just couldn't finish today."
But the Trevians held out and began to defend with ever-increasing numbers.
"We played our hearts out and gave it everything we could," Corirossi said. "We just couldn't finish. But second place isn't bad. It's a great way to end the season and my time of playing soccer."
The second half opened with the Saints again pushing for a goal. Rion Gaffney passed to Kelli Santo Paolo, whose shot was saved and Cunningham sent a shot just wide.
"I want to give credit to New Trier," Jennison said. "Any team that defends like they did, those kids were rock solid and they ran through everything."
But with the Saints pushing, the Trevians found room for counterattacks, especially on solo runs by Mulford. Three times in the second half, Sheehan had to make one-on-one saves in the penalty area to keep the lead at 1-0.
"I haven't seen many better keepers around," Jennison said. "She has the ability to dominate the box and was excellent shot stopping. I'm proud of the way she played."
In the dying moments of the match, Cunningham hit a left wing cross for Santo Paolo, which was cleared and Rasmussen had a free kick which sailed narrowly over the crossbar.
St. Charles East graduates seven seniors: Sheehan, Rasmussen, Gaffney, Corirossi, Hilton, Hannah Rawson and Ally Potterton.
"This has been an amazing journey," Hilton said. "This was a great way to end my St. Charles East career, both sports, but especially girls soccer. I bleed black and orange. We've had so much support from everyone."