Girls soccer: St. Charles East wins thriller over rival
One hundred minutes of regulation and two additional 10-minute overtime periods wasn't enough to break the scoreless stalemate, no matter how hard one tried.
The fate of Friday's Class 3A sectional title then rested in the wits of the goalkeepers and the delicate skill of striking the ball just a few yards ahead of them.
St. Charles East, ultimately, prevailed in the end with a victory over St. Charles North 1-0 ---- 4-2 in penalty kicks ---- after Megan Sreniawski rifled in the final tally past North Stars goalie Kara Claussner.
"I was just replaying in my mind my shot going in," Sreniawski said. "I was picking the corner and was like 'OK, this is what I'm going to do' and I just envisioned it. And, then, went up there and did what I envisioned. I was just so scared because I knew if I made this, we're winning."
The Saints (22-0-1) won their first sectional title since 2014, and in the process avenged their 2019 sectional loss to the North Stars (14-5-2). It also serves as the first sectional title under coach Vince DiNuzzo for the girls program.
The outcome also snapped a streak of four straight sectional titles for St. Charles North from 2015-2019.
No. 1 seed St. Charles East now faces another top-seeded team in Barrington in Tuesday's 6 p.m. supersectional in Barrington, the 2019 state runner-up.
In the first round of penalty kicks, Saints junior Ashley Stellon struck first, while goalkeeper Sofia Iori knocked away Bella Najera's shot. Jenna Sitta hit the post in the second round, while Grace Barresi missed high.
McKenna Gahagan and Hannah Miller both scored their next opportunities for the Saints and were matched by North Stars junior Sophia Sutherland and senior Bridget Wolf.
Sreniawski ensured the heart-racing finish in grand style.
In the first overtime period, the Saints had a shot on goal poked away by Claussner in the final 20 seconds to continue onto the second overtime period. Sitta also had a fantastic chance in the second frame, but the North Stars' sophomore goalie stood tall.
For regulation and both overtime periods, Claussner finished with 10 saves to keep the Saints' high-powered attack off the board. Iori finished with two saves.
"This game, I was in my element," Claussner said. "I've never felt this way for any other game. I feel like my team is so good sometimes, I get nothing [shots on goal], I get one pass back the whole game. But, here, I'm just like 'I'm able to do everything that I worked for all season' and I can be a part of the team and I really feel like I'm apart of everything ... it's a really great feeling."
"Yes, we didn't get the end result we wanted, but we had a great time doing it. I love all these girls so much and I'm so proud of them," Claussner continued.
The Saints practice penalty kicks every day in practice, and it apparently helped them keep their composure at the highest of stakes.
"We practice that just to stay calm ... If I don't stay calm [in net], nothing good would happen [in the end]," Iori said. "[Defeating the North Stars is] very relieving and just really happy we could keep going."
The Saints were held scoreless for the first time all season, a testament to the work of Claussner and the North Stars back line, including Morgan Nelson, Abigail Vichich, Wolf and more.
"I think you've got to look at the season as a whole," North Stars coach Brian Harks said. "Our girls, from where we started at the beginning, how we took some lumps early on, how we continued to grow; we set out for this game with a specific game plan and absolutely every girl did exactly what was expected of them."
"And, more, I could not be more prouder of this team as a coach," Harks continued. "Obviously, heartbroken at the result, but so proud of them. Players stepped up when they were called upon. Sometimes, it was in the middle of the field, [or] making a key stop in the back line. Every one of our defenders played extremely well. The pressure we had up top was excellent, and then, when needed, Kara did everything she could possibly do to keep us in the game, so it was awesome to watch out there as a coach."