HOFFMAN ESTATES – Elle McCaslin was hard to miss on the soccer field Friday.
She's 6-foot, for starters, striking size that's natural to her other sport, basketball. She wore an orange cast on her left arm, which she broke five weeks ago but won't allow it to keep her out.
And what about the blonde cornrows?
"Last night we had a cornrowing party at a teammate's house," laughed McCaslin, a St. Charles East junior. "Now we won't take them out until we lose."
The cornrows can stay.
McCaslin's 35-yard blast in a scoreless game Friday made sure of it. Christina Hull later added her first varsity goal, which proved invaluable as St. Charles East held off Wheaton Warrenville South 2-1 to win the Class 3A Hoffman Estates Regional.
The Saints (22-5), which won their sixth straight regional title, advance to face Conant in next Wednesday's Schaumburg Sectional semifinal.
They can thank, in part, their junior transfer McCaslin – who was actually conspicuously quiet for much of the first half.
"She was nowhere to be found for the first 25 minutes, and then she did that. We were about to take her off the field," Saints coach Vince DiNuzzo said. "It's awesome to have a player like that on our team, but the players around her are creating chances around her."
McCaslin had a free kick after a WW South hand ball sail high earlier in the first half – but didn't miss at her second opportunity.
Finding an opening in the center of the field, McCaslin blasted the 35-yard shot that soared just over the WW South keeper's fingertips into the net to give the Saints a 1-0 lead with 7:39 left in the half.
"I don't remember who passed it to me, but I saw the middle, saw a girl coming from my left so I turned and nobody was in the middle," McCaslin said, "so I just let it rip. I had a couple runs before that that weren't too great, but that got me going. Me and one of my coaches have been working on free kicks from long distances."
McCaslin, a Mississippi State recruit, has had a mighty interesting year.
She moved to St. Charles from Canton, Mich. last July, but then had surgery in August for a left ACL tear from playing basketball.
Expected to miss 12 months, McCaslin instead returned in February to the St. Charles East basketball team. Since then, she's emerged as one of the soccer Saints' top scoring threats.
"I was the fastest recovery they ever had," McCaslin said. "I knew I wanted to play high school [soccer]. I wasn't able to play club."
Then came the broken arm, against St. Charles North.
"I didn't say anything until after the game, and got X-rays," said McCaslin, who hasn't missed a game since. "I have a high pain tolerance, I guess."
The Saints made it 2-0 with 15:01 left in the second half, Hull knocking in a solid strike from 20 yards out.
"I was happy with how we executed in front of the net; we could have been better," DiNuzzo said. "In the back, we limited their chances."
WW South, which lost to St. Charles East 1-0 during the regular season, made for a dramatic finish late.
With 3:15 left Audrey Siebert knocked in a score off a cross from Paige Miller that was deflected, making it 2-1.
"That gave us a ton of momentum after all the hard work we had done," Siebert said. "That broke the seam."
The Tigers had a shot at an equalizer late, but Melisa Hadzic's shot was smothered by the Saints' goalkeeper in the final seconds.
Miller, a Northwestern recruit, knew the Tigers (14-5-1) wouldn't go quietly. She was one of six four-year starters for WW South. Four others were in their third varsity season.
"We're a team that's never going to give up, even late into a game," Miller said. "When it's 2-0, that's not something that's going to hold us back. We love this team and we love each other. We didn't want to let it go tonight."