NAPERVILLE – The St. Charles East girls soccer team was an underdog on paper but the Saints sure didn't look the part on the field.
The Saints lost Saturday night's IHSA Class 3A girls soccer state championship match to New Trier, 1-0, but the Saints' play – a state championship-caliber performance, in coach Paul Jennison's estimation – provided a large measure of solace.
"When these girls got to raise that second-place trophy and the fans are right behind them, that's the stuff they'll remember," Jennison said as a postgame drizzle fell on the North Central College turf. "They won't remember the score but they'll remember the whole setting, they'll remember the fans they had, they'll remember the support they had. That makes it all worthwhile.
"There weren't many tears. A lot of them knew they left it all out there. I couldn't ask for any more. If you'd have offered me this at the start of the season, I'd have snapped your hands off and said 'Absolutely.' "
New Trier finished the season 31-1, its lone loss coming to Waubonsie Valley, the team the Trevians ousted in Friday's state semifinal. Waubonsie won third place over Lincoln-Way North preceding Saturday's championship match.
East (19-5-5) conceded an early goal for the second straight day when New Trier defender Sarah Connors doubled her season goal output by lofting a 40-plus yard shot that floated just beyond the reach of Saints goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan, who had started the match with a pair of quality saves in the opening minutes.
"It was one of those that kind of had a backspin on it almost that was bringing it farther than I thought it would," Sheehan said. "I credit the shot, it was a very nice shot, and it was perfect placement, upper-90, corner. Couldn't have been a better shot."
After Connors' goal with 33:22 to play in the opening half, East gained traction and carried play for most of the rest of the half. East's best scoring opportunity came when junior Darcy Cunningham darted in off a deft set-up from senior Anna Corirossi but Cunningham's shot inside the box was smothered by New Trier goalkeeper Dani Kaufman.
"It was a great give-and-go between Anna and I," Cunningham said. "She always plays me right where I need it. I probably chose the wrong shot selection. I should have slotted it to the corner, and I shot it straight at the keeper."
East narrowly outshot New Trier, 15-14, though the Trevians forced Sheehan to make 10 saves while Kaufman had four stops. East, though, rifled several others that flirted with tying the match, including a free kick from Shannon Rasmussen with about 6 minutes left in the second half that whistled a couple feet above the crossbar.
Rasmussen (four shot attempts) and Cunningham (three) were consistently dangerous while East's midfield – led by seniors Amanda Hilton and Corirossi, plus junior Kelli Santo Paulo – continued to win more than their share of balls to facilitate the Saints' possession.
Jennison thought East deserved a better fate.
"That's the beauty and the tragedy of soccer is that the best team doesn't always win," Jennison said. "But I do want to give big congratulations to New Trier. Any team that can defend like they did, those kids are just rock solid."
The result marked the 11th straight shutout win for the Trevians, who prevented the Saints from winning the program's first state title since St. Charles High split.
East's orange-clad fans nonetheless maintained high spirits during the trophy presentation, and East players credited Saints fans' energetic cheers and chants for lifting their morale during and after the match.
"Our hearts were full coming in and our hearts are full right now," Hilton said.
Hilton, a four-year varsity pillar for the Saints, planned to hit the road Sunday morning for Nebraska as she gears up for college soccer.
Her final moments as a Saint made for quite the send-off.
"Two big things," Hilton said. "Let's just say this is a weekend I will never forget for the rest of my life. For good reasons."