NAPERVILLE – Taking the field for Friday’s IHSA Class 3A state semifinal match meant goosebumps all around, even on a warm evening.
As for how the St. Charles East girls soccer team will react come 7 p.m. tonight, when the Saints take aim at the state championship, senior defender Shannon Rasmussen hesitated to hazard a guess.
“I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like,” Rasmussen said. “This is like a so surreal, out-of-the body experience right now. I’m so happy that our season, my senior year, is ending that way. It’s awesome.”
So was the Saints’ performance Friday as East conceded an early goal before grabbing command of the match, defeating Lincoln-Way North, 3-1, at North Central College.
New Trier (30-1) figures to provide stiff opposition in tonight’s championship match after the Trevians topped Waubonsie Valley, 1-0, in the second semifinal.
East trailed, 1-0 at halftime, despite applying most of the pressure. Saints coach Paul Jennison said the girls showed little anxiety, instead summoning the sense of urgency the occasion demanded.
“That was our state final,” Jennison said of the semifinal triumph. “Without that win, we had no chance of playing at 7 o’clock tomorrow night, and that was the message, ‘Win the state final tonight.’ We did, and now we get the privilege of being one of the best two teams in the state regardless of what happens.”
Jennison chalked up the opening goal by Lincoln-Way North’s Rachel Pappas – just 6:10 into the match – to a “lack of communication, a little bit of nerves” by East’s usually sturdy back line in front of goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan.
East senior midfielder Amanda Hilton said the team didn’t overreact to the potentially jarring early strike for the Phoenix (22-4-1).
“Mistakes happen,” Hilton said. “That was just one mistake. Our team knew we were not going to let the defense feel that way. One mistake is not going to cost the game. We knew we needed to put the ball away. We knew we were doing an excellent job controlling the game. Our trust right now is unbelievable.”
Hilton and fellow midfield stalwart Anna Corirossi scored less than two minutes apart early in the second half to give East (19-4-5) the lead for good.
Hilton tied it, 1-all, heading home a looping feed from junior defender Mallory Mollenhauer inside the far post.
“Shannon [Rasmussen] and Mallory have been such unsung heroes on the outside,” Jennison said. “Defensively they’ve been excellent, but attacking, their delivery on set pieces and in the open play has been phenomenal. We’ve used that so much this year, and obviously again it worked today.”
Hilton’s score came with 36:25 to play in the second half. Corirossi’s encore came with 34:37 on the clock as the senior pounced on a deflected ball in the box and rifled the go-ahead goal past Phoenix goalkeeper Bethany Dombkowski.
“At first I tried playing a through-ball to Sophie [Jendrzeczyk], and I think a defender stepped in the way and it came right back to me, and then I settled it and went for the shot, and it went in,” Corirossi said.
With East continuing to carry play late – the Saints finished with 10 shots on goal compared to one for Lincoln-Way North – Rasmussen sealed East’s title berth by burying a free kick just outside the box with 3:41 to go.
“Me and Jennison always have this thing where he gives me a hand motion, and he was like ‘Shannon, this is yours,’ ” Rasmussen said. “So I just took the ball up there and took it like a PK. … I just slotted it right to the right corner of the goal.”
The Saints will take aim tonight at their first state title since 2000, capping a run of five straight state championships in the final years before St. Charles High School split.