Girls soccer: St. Edward’s season ends in regional final

Richmond-Burton senior midfielder Jordan Otto doesn’t take any of her team’s accomplishments for granted.

Last week, the Rockets defeated Johnsburg in the Kishwaukee River Conference Tournament title match to wrap up its fourth consecutive perfect season in the conference.

On Wednesday, the top-seeded Rockets took a big first step to their ultimate goal of hoisting a state championship trophy, beating No. 4 St. Edward 7-0 in the Class 1A Westminster Christian regional final for the program’s fifth straight regional title.

Otto, along with R-B’s seven other seniors, have been a part of all of those wins.

“It’s something that most teams don’t get to do. To be a part of it is insane,” said Otto, one of the team captains. “It’s been an amazing four years and I owe everything to this program. The ride is something indescribable.”

The Rockets (15-2-1) hope their ride continues a lot longer.

Richmond-Burton next plays No. 3 North Shore Country Day in a Marian Central Sectional semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Rockets have won sectional title in each of the past three seasons. In 2022, they placed second at state.

During Wednesday’s win, the Rockets had possession on St. Edward’s end of the field for most of the first half but came up empty on numerous scoring chances early on.

Sophomore Nicole Mendlik broke a scoreless tie with 28:46 left in the first half, although the Rockets midfielder admitted she wasn’t trying to score on the play. Mendlik looked to cross a ball to her teammates, but the shot from just outside the penalty area sailed over St. Edward goalkeeper Breanna Epoungue.

“I was actually aiming to cross it, but it curved in so it worked out pretty well,” said Mendlik, who added her second goal later in the first half. “I was trying to hit it to the back post, so somebody else could tap it in, but it went a little higher and it worked out perfectly.”

Otto said Mendlik’s goal helped calm the Rockets after early missed opportunities.

“That was huge,” Otto said. “We had a few that were going right to the goalkeeper and everything, so to get one finally really got us going. ... I think that we played together as a team, and even though things kind of got a little physical we still played together and worked through it.”

After Mendlik recorded her first goal, R-B didn’t have to wait long for its second. Freshman forward Maddie Seyller found the back of the net 38 seconds later, assisted by senior midfielder Bri Maldonado. Mendlik then scored her third goal, and Layne Frericks added another to make it 4-0 with 12:38 left in the first half.

Seyller scored off a corner kick from Maldonado with 22:23 left in the second half. Senior Rachel Mendlik scored twice in the final 8:04 of regulation, including R-B’s seventh and final goal with about 30 seconds left.

St. Edward coach Tim Brieger knew the Rockets would present a tough challenge.

“They’re an amazing team,” Brieger said. “We knew the odds were stacked against us. They’ve got amazing athletes, they’re well-coached and extremely disciplined. We just told the girls, ‘The only way we’re going to have a chance is to slow them down, bog them down, and frustrate. Make them shoot shots that they don’t want to shoot and make them do things they don’t want to do.”

Brieger praised the play of Epoungue, a sophomore, who finished with 22 saves for the Green Wave (10-12). Many of those came in the game’s opening minutes.

“I thought [Epoungue] absolutely stood on her head today. She had a brilliant game,” Brieger said. “I think you could see there was some frustration on [R-B’s] side.”

Despite the big win, Rockets coach Casey DeCaluwe didn’t feel like Wednesday was his team’s best showing.

“We’ll get back on the training field and we’re going to work hard tomorrow,” he said. “They may not like it for a day, but if we want to get to our ultimate goal, then we’ve got to have higher expectations for ourselves.”

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