HOFFMAN ESTATES – There certainly was a level of doubt creeping in.
The St. Charles East girls soccer team had experienced the highest of highs this season and, coach Vince DiNuzzo said, some very low lows – especially of late.
The Saints, who won their first 16 games of the season, faced a one-goal deficit at halftime of the regional championship match against Schaumburg on May 19. St. Charles East came into the match having lost three of the previous five contests.
“There was some doubt,” DiNuzzo said. “We’ve had a couple of these types of games lately where it seems like the ball just won’t go in.”
Fortunately for St. Charles East, it wasn’t one of those nights. Mackenzie Loomis provided the spark with her header off a corner kick tying the game midway through the second half. It completely changed the momentum in a 2-1 Saints victory in the Class 3A Conant Regional championship.
It was St. Charles East’s ninth consecutive regional title.
“We knew we were playing well and that 1-0 didn’t mean anything to us,” Loomis said. “I think we always have a target on our backs and that provides a lot of motivation for us. I think once we got that first one, we knew we had it in the bag. It was such a swing of emotions, but definitely happy to come out on top tonight.”
Three minutes after Loomis tied the match for the Saints (19-3), Schaumburg felt St. Charles East’s pressure again while attempting to clear a ball off its own goal line and away from Saints forward Tatum Smith.
Unfortunately for the Saxons, the ball deflected directly off a defender and into their net for an own goal.
The three-minute span felt especially rewarding for the Saints’ seniors, who had been watching the minutes tick off the clock potentially for the last time in their high school careers despite the team applying most of the pressure in the match.
“I feel like we’re always a very confident team,” Saints senior defender Ella Stehman said. “I think going down a goal pushed us even more, just knowing it could be the last time we’re on the field together. I think we’re a resilient team and showed that tonight.”
Schaumburg (8-8-1) was able to withstand pressure from the Saints in the first half and then took advantage of a loose ball that found the foot of Madison Schiola just before halftime. The senior forward volleyed a ball from the top of the box that found its way past Saints goalkeeper Sidney Lazenby to give the Saxons the lead over the sectional’s top seed.
“We knew we really couldn’t run with them,” Schaumburg coach Greg Charvat said. “I thought we contained them well for as long as we could, but just ran out of gas there toward the end. We played about as well as we could have but we just didn’t have enough people to defend them when they started throwing players forward.”
Saxons goalkeeper Natalie Hassmann finished with six saves and made a couple of point-blank saves against Saints standout forward Grace Williams to keep Schaumburg ahead at the time.
Lazenby finished with three saves for the Saints, who advanced to play Batavia in the Class 3A West Chicago Sectional semifinals.