The St. Charles East girls soccer team was edged on the scoreboard in Saturday's IHSA Class 3A state championship match but certainly not in the stands.
A large, rowdy contingent of East fans congregated at North Central College and made their presence felt throughout the Saints' 1-0 loss to New Trier.
"It was amazing," East junior forward Darcy Cunningham said. "So many people came out. We weren't expecting this many people here. People were here when we were warming up. It was great to see all the support we had. We had more fans than New Trier, so that was great."
Senior midfielder Amanda Hilton became emotional in saluting East's student body, which gave the Saints rousing ovations at several points during and after the match.
"Man, they really brought it," Hilton said. "I couldn't be more thankful. I bleed black and orange, and to see all of my friends and all of our friends come out and support is the best feeling in the world. It means so much to us."
Several alumni from the program – many of whom graduated quite a while ago – either attended the matches in Naperville or passed along their well-wishes leading up to the weekend.
"It's an unbelievable town and it's an unbelievable atmosphere," East coach Paul Jennison said. "The support they've shown, to see the staff and the student body out there, that just makes you glow with pride. I mean, you can't deny that.
"I think the support we've had all year from the parents and the fan base has been amazing."
Second thoughts for Sheehan: East senior goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan planned to conclude her soccer career this season. Now, she's not so sure.
Perhaps influenced by the Saints' postseason thrill ride in recent weeks, Sheehan said after Saturday's match that she's pursuing options to play collegiately.
"I made my decision before the season started and I didn't realize how much I'd miss it," Sheehan said. "I can't give this up. I can't give up these feelings, this game."
Sheehan made a strong final impression with the Saints, notching several challenging saves and aggressively closing down shooting angles for New Trier's speedy forwards to enable East to remain in striking distance of the Trevians throughout the match.
"I haven't seen many better keepers around," Jennison said. "She has the ability to dominate a box, shot-stopping, distribution. I think she's an excellent goalkeeper. Very proud of the way she's played. She's been one of the main reasons we're here. I think she can go on to be a top college player if she puts herself in the right position to do so."
Time to reload: Jennison said this year's senior class will be "irreplaceable" but the Saints nonetheless project to bring back substantial talent next spring, including starters such as forwards Darcy Cunningham and Sophie Jendrzeczyk, midfielder Kelli Santo Paulo and defenders Mallory Mollenhauer, Sara Buetow and Sonia Ost.
"The players coming forward now have got a benchmark," Jennison said. "They've got to really raise their level in order to achieve what we did this year."
Jennison, who coaches East's boys soccer program, too, said the girls also have set the bar for the East boys, who have made substantial postseason runs the past two seasons that fell short of the state semifinals.
The girls soccer program gave East a team state runner-up for the second straight spring after East's softball team took second place in Class 4A in 2013. The Saints' girls track and field team placed third as a team and produced a pair of championship relays last month.
"St. Charles East generally has been on the up-and-up recently," Jennison said. "Athletics are getting back to where they belong, and obviously we were very proud to be play our part in that."