Girls soccer: St. Charles East stays perfect, wins regional over Conant

  • St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) heads in a goal against Conant during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) heads in a goal against Conant during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Conant goalkeeper Olivia Messerges (0) and midfielder Claire Liberio (12) watch as St. Charles East's Megan Stout (9) reacts after her teammate McKenna Gahagan (20) scored on a header during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    Conant goalkeeper Olivia Messerges (0) and midfielder Claire Liberio (12) watch as St. Charles East's Megan Stout (9) reacts after her teammate McKenna Gahagan (20) scored on a header during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles East's Megan Stout (9) celebrates with St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    St. Charles East's Megan Stout (9) celebrates with St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) is mobbed by her teammates after scoring in the first half of Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) is mobbed by her teammates after scoring in the first half of Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Conant midfielder Emma Simpson (18) puts pressure on St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    Conant midfielder Emma Simpson (18) puts pressure on St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Conant goalkeeper Olivia Messerges (0) reels in a corner kick during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    Conant goalkeeper Olivia Messerges (0) reels in a corner kick during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) pushes past Conant midfielder Emma Simpson (18) during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    St. Charles East's McKenna Gahagan (20) pushes past Conant midfielder Emma Simpson (18) during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Conant's Sarah Bradley, (8) moves the ball ahead of St. Charles East's Lindsey Rzeszutko (25) Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    Conant's Sarah Bradley, (8) moves the ball ahead of St. Charles East's Lindsey Rzeszutko (25) Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Conant's Hannah Husnick, 11, battles St. Charles East's Jenna Sitta (6) for control of the ball during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles.

    Conant's Hannah Husnick, 11, battles St. Charles East's Jenna Sitta (6) for control of the ball during Class 3A girls soccer regional final Saturday June 5, 2021 in St. Charles. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/5/2021 2:44 PM

Conant girls soccer coach Jason Franco had a bit of a sinking feeling when he saw the brackets for this year's postseason.

It's never good staring at a team like St. Charles East against you in the draw.

 

"We got a tough seed this year," Franco said. "I thought we deserved a little higher and didn't want to play these guys right away. I think we play anybody else we might have had a good chance of walking away with a regional championship."

Conant focused on playing a defensive game Saturday in the Class 4A St. Charles East regional championship, keeping almost its entire team back trying to slow the Saints.

It worked for awhile, but Mckenna Gahagan headed in a goal midway through the first half and fellow junior Ashley Stellon scored an insurance goal in the second for a 2-0 win.

No. 1 seed St. Charles East (20-0-1) stayed unbeaten, winning its seventh straight regional championship (not counting the 2020 non-season).

The Saints have now outscored opponents 106-9 this year heading into a sectional semifinal back at Norris Stadium on Tuesday night against No. 4 Glenbard West.

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"We have big goals but we have to take it one game at a time because this is a hard sectional," Stellon said. "Teams are looking out for us but we just have to play our game every game and we'll be OK."

A tie against Naperville North is the only thing on the Saints' slate other than a W.

"Teams know we are undefeated and every team that comes to play us wants to be the one to beat us but we can't let that get in our heads," Gahagan said. "We just have to stick with our own game plan and move forward."

Conant (8-5-1) made it to the 20-minute water break of the first half at 0-0 despite several corner kicks by the Saints' Hannah Miller. Cougars keeper Sydney Litney snared several of those kicks.

Just after the break, Miller again sent a corner in that found Gahagan's head, and after a couple of bounces in the box the ball found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead at the 19:22 mark.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I saw it coming and it was nerve-wracking because they are dominant out of the air but if it's coming to you just have to be there first and I was able to get there first and get the header on," Gahagan said.

The 1-0 score remained at halftime before the Saints struck quickly in the second half. Stellon made sure to stay onside as she followed up a blast by Gahagan by getting the rebound and netting her shot five minutes into the second half.

"I knew McKenna has a hard shot that is hard for the goalie to hold it," Stellon said.

The Cougars got their only shot on goal during the game at the 24-minute mark of the second half. Saints keeper Sophia Lori tipped it over the top of the net.

Franco credited defenders Hannah Husnick, Gracie Rodriguez, Sophia Bertani and Claire Liberio -- who normally plays winger but was moved back to help with the Saints' Miller -- with keeping Conant in the game.

"We knew we had our hands full and play more defensive-minded than we have in our last five or six conference games to try to hold them out," Franco said. "Our goal was to try to keep it scoreless as long as possible. Obviously they are a really good team but I'm really proud of my girls. I thought they competed and not many teams have been able to stay in the game with them."

The Saints will try to keep their undefeated season going next against Glenbard West, who edged No. 5 Wheaton North 4-3 on PKs.

"The girls embrace it," Saints coach Vince DiNuzzo said. "We have a long way to go. Any team that's undefeated has a target but as long as we play to our capabilities we will be all right."

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