STREAMWOOD – At the end of a rollercoaster ride, riders typically feel either exhilarated or sick.
At the end of the rollercoaster ride that was Saturday's Class 3A Bartlett Regional girls soccer championship, a pair of Tri-Cities teams adopted those roles.
Geneva players left Millennium Field exhilarated by their 3-2 victory on penalty kicks, while St. Charles East players left with a sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs, made worse by the knowledge they had beaten the Vikings twice in the regular season
The Saints (14-6-2) shut out Geneva (14-8-1) in both those contests, but this time the Vikings got two goals from Molly Axen in the first 50 minutes to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
“That was motivation,“ Geneva coach Megan Owens said of the early-season losses to East. “We’re not the same team we were. Like we talked about before the game, we play such a hard season to get us ready for this. We play tough teams that other teams don’t.”
The Vikings served notice early that they planned to dial up the offensive pressure this time. Less than five minutes into the match, Amanda Lulek flicked a header to Axen for a breakaway scoring chance. Her shot beat East keeper Kendra Sheehan, but banged off the right post.
There were few good scoring opportunities for either team the rest of the half until Axen scored 1:54 before intermission after a good build-up by Megan Fitz and Courtney Lardas.
“It was kind of a shock to me at first,” Axen said. “I was calling for the ball and my teammate, Courtney, she made a really good cross to me. We’ve been doing a lot of short corners in practice, so I just kind of flashed back to it and just finished it.”
Practicing corner kicks also helped on Axen’s second goal, which came just under 10 minutes into the second half. The senior forward got a head on a corner by Lulek.
“We always just say throw your body in there, be aggressive,” Axen said. “I saw the ball coming and just threw my head in there and got the goal.”
The Saints responded to Axen’s second tally with a furious comeback effort. Carly Pottle scored a breakaway goal off a long pass by Darcy Cunningham with 20:56 remaining on the clock and
Cunningham scored the equalizer with 6:28 to play on a header in the box on a nice crossing pass from Shannon Rasmussen.
With 49 seconds left in regulation, Geneva keeper Samantha Hauser made a nice save on a shot by Morgan Settle after the Vikings narrowly averted conceding an own goal.
Hauser, who made nine saves in regulation and overtime, was just getting warmed up for penalty kicks, which decided the match after a pair of scoreless overtimes. The Saints scored on their first two penalty kicks, but Hauser then robbed Rasmussen with a sprawling save to her right.
“I was just thinking I had to follow the ball,” Hauser said. “We’ve taken so many PKs in practice, I kind of know people’s habits. I had to act instantly. I just picked the right side, got to the ball and got my hands on it.”
After making the initial stop, Hauser still had to scramble to keep the rolling ball from crossing the goal line.
“It was like right on the line,” the junior keeper said. “But it was rolling slow enough and slowing down, so I knew I could get there.”
Moments later, Hauser sealed the victory by guessing correctly again and making a comparatively easy save on Amanda Hilton, much to the delight of Axen. Geneva outscored East, 4-2, in PKs.
“I was shaking, I was so excited,” Axen said. “I knew she could do it. She’s an amazing goalie. I’m so proud of her.”
Owens said she was proud of Molly Stanfa, Hope Goodman, Taylor Williams and Annie Waldoch for converting their penalty kicks.
"My kids, to make four of their four PKs, I mean, they kept their composure,” Owens said. “They did a tremendous job. I couldn’t be prouder of them. … We went through an emotional roller coaster [today].”
East coach Paul Jennison also expressed pride in the fine season the Saints produced, though he lamented his squad’s play in the opening half.
“First half, let’s face it, we got caught in their kick-and-run tactics,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t play a single ball the way we wanted. I’ll be honest with you, to lose the way we did against that style, I’m pretty upset.”
And probably a little sick to his stomach.