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Comfortable Saints win may have been misleading

Conant coach says Cougars ‘didn’t have anything left’ when teams met

The sectional seedings say one thing. The result from May 2 indicates quite another.

No. 2 Conant rates a slight seeding edge compared to No. 4 St. Charles East, but the Saints' 3-0 pasting of Conant in a Naperville North tournament game earlier this month suggests the Saints are no underdog in today's IHSA Class 3A Conant Sectional final.

After his team topped Geneva, 3-1, in Wednesday's sectional semifinal, Conant coach Jason Franco acknowledged some might consider East the team to beat based on the regular season result.

"We hope they're looking at that like that, too," Franco said. " … It was our fourth game in five days, and we didn't have anything left."

East coach Paul Jennison said he was in no position to judge whether Conant gave an atypical performance when the teams met during the regular season, but he loved what he saw on the Saints' end.

"I didn't know if they were their strongest or not but I do know it was one of our best performances of the year," Jennison said. "I thought we played a very good game again them, and 3-nil was a very comfortable victory, but obviously at the same time, I'm well aware it's going to be a very different game [Friday]."

East (16-4-2) has had one extra day to rest after notching its emotional sectional semifinal win against St. Charles North on Tuesday, 2-1.

Conant (15-4-2) followed up with a strong showing in ousting Geneva as Cougars standout Leah Celarek, a Marquette recruit, scored two of her team's three goals. Jennison said the Saints won't design their game plan specifically around Celarek, saying East has the personnel to play its style without needing to adjust based on an opponent's star player.

Regardless of what happened May 2, Franco expects a hotly contested sectional final. The winner advances to Tuesday's Lake Park Supersectional against the winner of today's match between Huntley and Machesney Park Harlem.

"I feel like they're kind of like us," Franco said of East. "They're pretty solid defensively, they've got a good goalkeeper, they knock the ball around a little bit, they've got talented midfield players. It should be a good battle, especially in the middle of the field. I think it's going to be a pretty evenly matched showing. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do against them this time around."

East's depth likely will be tested after a pair of Saints – starter Rion Gaffney and key reserve Hannah Rawson – went down with injuries against North. Rawson is definitely sidelined while Gaffney is "touch and go" for today, Jennison said.

"We train the girls with the mentality that they've got to be ready to come in at any time," Jennison said. "I think the fact we were able to get all 22 players in the regional final really lifted the spirits and made everyone realize they need to be ready to step into a big game at any time."

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