Girls soccer: Vernon Hills downs St. Viator in PKs for regional title
Vernon Hills booked its third straight trip to girls soccer sectionals after a stunning 2-1 victory over No. 3 seed St. Viator Saturday at Morris Field in Arlington Heights.
The Cougars (8-7-5) hoisted the Class 2A St. Viator regional trophy after a 3-2 advantage in penalty kicks when sophomore keeper Daniella Jarrell's brilliant save sent the No. 5 Cougars into the Antioch sectional on Tuesday against the No. 2 seed Lake Forest.
"DJ came up so big for us, especially after missing her spot kick on the previous kick," said an elated Vernon Hills coach Mike McCaulou. "So much composure by a sophomore after that miss, and what an effort to save what should have been the equalizer to send it into the sixth round of kicks."
McCaulou watched his club struggle in the first quarter hour as the Lions (13-8-1) gathered momentum, thanks in part to far too many balls given away in the Cougars' end resulting in the home side having most of the play.
The first of two injuries suffered by the Cougars came in the 19th minute when captain Alex Ludolph came off and didn't return, which put additional pressure on Vernon Hills in the middle of the park.
"To lose a D-1 player like Ludolph, then Julia (Neary), midway through the second half could have been a disaster but this team is so mentally strong and just would not go away and fold," said a proud McCaulou.
The best chance of the first half fell to Biede, who ran to the near post to meet a Abby Kempf ball and if not for a strong save by Lilly Collins, the visitors may have found the opener.
After a short clearing effort allowed Gabby Brown the chance to burst into the box the sophomore was hauled down, sending Payton McDonnell to the spot.
The senior missed wide with her 24th minute attempt, but would come back to deliver an inch-perfect corner to an unmarked Bridget Dezeller to make it 1-0 when she headed in from close range at 35 minutes.
Vernon Hills came out of the intermission with more energy, going close on three occasions in the first 10 minutes, all on well executed counters.
Kempf had her point-blank attempt stopped by Collins with Sam DeJulio draped all over the junior, then watched her keeper save an Emile Doersching shot.
When it looked as if the Lions would hold on to advance, Jesse Biede would redirect her shot in just three minutes from time.
"I thought our fitness and energy level carried into the first overtime, where we had most of the play, then we had another strong effort in the second (OT) to keep (St. Viator) on its heels," said McCaulou.
When there was nothing settled after 100 grueling minutes in the sun and heat, it was on to the dreaded penalties to separate the two teams.
Once there, Vernon Hills went up 2-1, then 3-2 after Ziggy Jezorski, Grace Guillaume and Lily Blase converted, while the Lions' duo of McDonnell and Claire Bottcher did so as well.
Jarrell never hesitated when she went horizontal to her right to stop the final Lions' attempt, then waited for her teammates to sprint into her box to mob the Cougars' hero.
"That save was just amazing, a great first step, to take a sure spot-kick out of the back of the net," said McCaulou.
The devastating loss by the Lions took its toll on those who were a part of a memorable 2018 state team, many of whom were unable to hold back the tears.
"It's a tough way to go out, especially when we had the chance to maybe go up two or 3-0 at the half, but in this game you've got to finish your chances," said Lions coach Mike Taylor.
"When you don't, your season is over quickly."