WEST CHICAGO – Solid regular seasons had given way to exasperating postseasons throughout the careers of St. Charles East girls soccer's senior class.
That trend ended Friday. East leapfrogged the regional championship game hurdle that previously tripped up the Saints, scoring the first five goals en route to blistering Wheaton Warrenville South, 5-2, in the IHSA Class 3A West Chicago Regional championship match.
"Over the last couple of years our postseasons have always ended on a sour note or something that should have gone our way and didn't," East senior midfielder Anna Corirossi said. "This season, it's an incredible feeling. Me and a couple other seniors, this is our last time playing, and we really want to go out with a bang. We don't want to stop."
East coach Paul Jennison called the regional title "a long time coming." It advanced the Saints to a showdown with crosstown foe St. Charles North in Tuesday's Conant Sectional semifinal.
"This group is without doubt the most positive group I've ever been a part of," Jennison said. "They always are giving each other positive feedback regardless of whatever the situation is. We've had one or two games this year that haven't gone our way and they've come in the next day with a fantastic work ethic."
East (15-4-2) was dominant from the get-go, cashing in twice within the opening four minutes of play. The first goal came on Rion Gaffney's conversion off a curving feed from Corirossi, and East went up 2-0 at the 36:06 mark on the first of two first-half goals from junior Darcy Cunningham.
Gaffney is among the reinforcements that has helped East's veteran core of players such as Amanda Hilton, Shannon Rasmussen, goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan, Cunningham and Corirossi reach another level this season. Gaffney played for East as a freshman, missed her sophomore year with hip surgery and focused on club play with Oak Brook Soccer Club as a junior.
Gaffney, an Elmhurst College recruit, has enjoyed her return to the prep soccer scene this spring.
"This has been a heck of a ride," Gaffney said. "I've enjoyed every moment of it with my team, and I'm looking forward to seeing where we can go this year."
The Saints led, 3-0, at halftime as Cunningham scored again late in the half, heading home a 40-plus yard free kick from Rasmussen.
Second-half Saints goals from Sophie Jendrzeczyk and Hilton made it 5-0 and emboldened Jennison to clear his bench, at least until the Tigers (11-9-1) chipped away with a pair of penalty kick goals by junior Alexis Jakuszewski, who rifled both shots past backup East goalkeeper Alison Chesterfield.
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Guy Callipari said East's early goals dictated "everything" in terms of the Tigers' plan of attack.
"It's a little frustrating that their first shot and their second shot on the face of the goal accounted for two tallies," Callipari said. "It's a matter of us coming out on our heels as opposed to our toes and not asserting ourselves early enough."
Callipari's daughter, Olivia, is a junior on Batavia's girls soccer team. The Bulldogs' regional final match – a loss to St. Charles North – started in Addison an hour after the East-Wheaton Warrenville South match began.
"It could be a quiet night at the Callipari household, set aside by two St. Charles schools," Callipari said. "But it's a hotbed for soccer. They have a lot of great kids that come through the program and they're both well-coached so we know coming through the sectional it's always going to be difficult. … They have a lot of tradition in coming through and expecting to win, and that's what they do."
Jennison figured some Tri-Cities rivals would be part of the postseason equation considering North, Geneva and East were three of the sectional's top four seeds.
"The fact of the matter is if you want to get out of the sectional, you've got to beat North and Geneva," Jennison said. "That's just the reality of it. To get another go at North is excellent. It's a local rivalry, it's fantastic and either way I think to go up against the girls they've all played with their whole careers, it'll be a fantastic game regardless."