Barrington makes it four straight
It took a mighty effort, but Barrington is the Mid-Suburban League's girls soccer champion.
The Fillies (16-1-3) broke the otherwise air-tight resistance of Hersey with a goal at 44 minutes from Jenna Szczesny, then held their breath in the final moments as the Huskies tried to tie it up.
Barrington secured a 1-0 victory Wednesday at Hersey to win the 26th annual MSL Soccer Cup for a record-setting fourth consecutive time.
"This is a special group of seniors who are now a part of history in the conference and our program, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I am for all of them," said beaming Barrington coach Ryan Stengren after watching his program lift the conference trophy for the eighth time overall on the turf at Roland Goins Stadium, where Stengren once starred during his own prep playing days.
"It's kind of hard to believe we've been in this game four times and have won four straight, but it's something we're all proud of," said Barrington senior Megan Fox, who along with Jenna Szczesny and Hannah Luedtke have been there right from the start.
The Fillies played elegant soccer from the opening whistle, enjoying close to 90 percent of possession while knocking the ball around as if the ball were on a string, stretching and bending the vaunted Hersey back eight, who still defended with composure and organization for coach Darren Llewellyn throughout a chilly May night.
"That's a classy program that Darren runs," Stengren said. "They are a marvel to watch defensively, and your fear is always that you don't put that second one in, and then they come back and counter on you and suddenly you're even and heading to overtime or PKs."
"Barrington is incredibly talented from front-to-back," said Llewellyn, "plus they have an unbelievable player up top (Szczesny) who can strike at any moment.
"So, you're darn right we were looking to hold them down, counter and take them into PKs, where you always have a chance then."
It appeared during the early exchanges the Huskies woudn't be abel to even hope for PKs for fine sophomore keeper Claire Gritt as Barrington opened up by playing tough attacking soccer led by Ann Marie Niro, who turned in her first full 80 minutes of the season after a variety of health issues have kept the Notre Dame-bound midfielder on the sidelines through the regular season.
"Ann Marie was fantastic tonight," said Stengren. "She ran the show with great skill and had some fantastic passes throughout the night."
Niro influenced the pace and speed of the Fillies' attack, and when the senior wasn't connecting with her teammates, she was having a go or two on frame. First she forced Gritt to save her attempt in the 20th minute and later rattled the bar at 27 minutes, one of three on the night that struck the frame.
"We're a different team with Ann Marie in the middle," said Szczesny. "She had a great game all night long."
The two-time Mid-Suburban West player of the year had defensive company throughout the evening as the Huskies (13-5-2) doubled the all-state striker. The nonstop work rate from Kayla Knauss, Annie Korff, Sara Magnuson, Emma Slosar and Abby Wendell was pure joy to watch for the sheer energy this bunch produced.
"There was never any quit in us tonight, we played with a lot of heart and desire," said Knauss. "Those of us who were part of that 3-0 loss last year reminded the others that it wouldn't happen again this time around, and it showed with the way everyone fought out there."
A brilliant piece of trickery from Szczesny ended with the Fillies' standout finding the post in the 35th minute, and after a handful of half-chances during the first period, the game-winner came from a defense-splitting free kick from Soph Spinell just after intermission.
The looping ball stayed inside the 6-yard box long enough for Szczesny to score her 28th goal of the season -- much to the disdain of the Huskies' defenders, who felt that the ball had not crossed the endline and that Szczesny had come from an off-side position to score.
The Fillies kept the pressure up. Niro nearly doubled the advantage in the 51st minute, as did Kelsey Muniz minutes later before Kayla Schutter went just wide at 78 minutes following a marvelous helper from Szczesny.
The search for the equalizer was nearly found in the closing moments with Grace Kozurek on the tail end of a counter. But her close-range shot was stopped by Luedtke, who preserved the victory with her 80th-minute save.
"When all the play is on other end as it was tonight, it was important for me to stay focused and not get caught up in watching the game -- because you know, especially with a team like Hersey, that they can counter so quickly and be in on me right away," said Luedtke.
"We held them just as we hoped to with an all-out effort, and had our chance there at the end," Llewellyn said. "But again, Barrington is a great team, and I really feel a game like this was a great experience for us to be involved in, and one that will help us down the road in the playoffs."