WHEELING — A couple of forces — one weather-related, the other wearing Rochelle Zell togs — clashed Wednesday afternoon on Field 1 at Heritage Park.
Relentless wind got the best of Tigers junior forward Becca Berkeley for the first 13 minutes of a nonconference match against visiting Westmont.
A sudden gust at the back of the Chicagoland Soccer Little All-Stater sent one of her early shots well over Westmont’s cage in the season-opener for both sides.
Berkeley, by a landslide.
The Tiger struck for a natural hat-trick in a six-minute stretch in the first half and added another goal, to go with an assist, in the second half in Rochelle Zell’s 6-1 victory.
“Yes, we did,” Berkeley said, referring to the sense of urgency she and her mates felt to score in the first half, since facing the brutal wind and attempting hit the net after intermission would likely prove to be an even taller task.
“We want to be a strong first half team this season, especially on a day like today,” added the third-year varsity booter and the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match. “It’s always a good thing to get the scoring out of the way early. It gives you security.”
Berkeley, a tri-captain, scored her first goal of 2023 in the 14th minute, off a feed from freshman midfielder Hannah Melman.
She found a clear path, beginning near the top of the box, and casually poked an eight-yard, near-post shot past Westmont senior goalkeeper Josephine Bylaitis (four saves).
A Berkeley steal preceded her second goal, this one from about 20 yards. A lengthy, wind-aided service off the foot of Rochelle Zell freshman midfielder Eliana Shapira led to the completion of the hat-trick in the 20th minute.
Berkeley also opened the scoring in the second half, thanks to another assist from Shapira in the 42nd minute.
“Becca,” Tigers coach David Martinez said, “is very coachable. Her experience sets her apart; she knows where she has to be on the field at all times. Becca also holds her teammates accountable and motivates them.”
Rochelle Zell junior Meira Lieberman stood out defensively in both halves. The alert sweeper hammered several clears, stymied rushes and, in the second half, caught up to a ball bounding toward an open net before sweeping it away from danger.
“I was surrounded by seniors last year,” Lieberman said. “They formed the backbone of our defense.”
“Now,” Martinez noted, “Meira is our backbone back there.”
Westmont senior forward Siena Ricciardi — one of two Sentinels with significant club experience — authored the visitors’ first shot-on-goal late in the first half. Sophomore teammate Danielle Hoover, a promising and tireless midfielder, created Westmont’s best first half scoring chance shortly thereafter.
Westmont (0-1-0), which trailed 4-0 at the break and 6-0 after 69 minutes, got on the board via a steal-and-goal by Ricciardi. The future DePaul University criminal justice major nailed a shot from about 18 yards over the hands of senior keeper and tri-captain Talia Scholder (five saves).
“(Scholder) dives well,” Ricciardi, a Chicago Empire FC member since seventh-grade, said of her decision to aim north.
“Our team stayed positive, even after we fell behind by as many goals as we did,” she added. “That was good to see. A lot of our players had never played (organized soccer) before this season. Our communication out there was good.”
The game Wednesday marked the start of Laura Pergande’s second coaching stint at Westmont. She returned to the Sentinels’ sideline after taking a 10-year hiatus to focus on her family. Pergande — a 1997 Sandburg graduate and member of the Eagles’ state runner-up soccer squad in 1996 — coached Westmont’s varsity girls program from 2001-11.
“It’s a fun group, with a lot of variety (range of skills) and plenty of first-year players,” she said before Wednesday’s kickoff. “We even welcomed a first-year player (senior midfielder/backup goalkeeper Diellza Dalipi) who’s going to play basketball at Elmhurst University.”
Pergande, like her players, evinced an upbeat attitude after the setback to Deerfield-based Rochelle Zell (1-0-0).
“We’re fighters,” she said. “We showed a competitive spirit.”
Rochelle Zell sophomore forward Elana Cohen (goal) and junior midfielder Ahava Cohen (assist, no relation) collaborated for the Tigers’ fourth tally in minute 22. Elana’s near-post goal traveled about 15 yards.
In the 54th minute Berkeley fed a pass to Shapira, who netted the Tigers’ final goal. Moments earlier Shapira had just missed scoring on a far-post, sharply angled shot.
In another near-goal sequence in the second half, Elana Cohen delivered a gorgeous cross to senior midfielder and tri-captain Zoey Weiss, who had camped some three yards from the far post.
Weiss had what appeared to be an easy redirect try, but keeper Bylaitis denied it with her best save of the raw day, prompting a classy, “Well done!” from a voice along Rochelle Zell’s sideline.
“It’s always windy here,” Martinez said. “You have to do more than find shots to take at this place, with it being so open; you have to create quality shots. We struggled a bit in the beginning, failing to connect our passes. We then got better, possession-wise, and did a good job getting our outside midfielders involved.”
One game, six goals.
Quite a start.
Off and … scoring.
But Martinez wasn’t just excited about his crew’s productive afternoon at blustery Heritage Park.
The Tigers’ collective mindset, from minute 1 to minute 80, also thrilled him.
“They all truly want to be their best selves for each other,” Martinez said.
Rochelle Zell scored its second win of the season with a 3-0 effort against Lake Forest Academy on Thursday in Wheeling. Scholder recorded the shutout with six saves, five in the second half. Goals came from Berkeley, Ahava Cohen, and Elana Cohen.
Westmont met Wilmington on Thursday and fell 8-2.
Born to play soccer? Maybe. Midfielder Noa Footlik made Rochelle Zell’s varsity as a freshman — one of five frosh on the parent club. … Anna Ferdkoff serves as Rochelle Zell’s manager.
GK Josephine Bylaitis
D Kaitlyn Hoover
D Heiry Sierra
D Campbell Heavlin
D Yessica Gomez
MF Grace Spezia
MF Danielle Hoover
MF Diellza Dalipi
F Madelynn Herrera
F Carlee Englebretsen
F Siena Ricciardi
GK Talia Scholder
D Meira Lieberman
D Issy Wolle
D Sarena Sklar
D Moriya Mlotek
MF Zoey Weiss
MF Eliana Shapira
MF Hannah Melman
MF Ahava Cohen
F Becca Berkeley
F Elana Cohen
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Becca Berkeley, jr., F, Rochelle Zell
Rochelle Zell — Berkeley (Melman), 14’
Rochelle Zell — Berkeley (UA), 18’
Rochelle Zell — Berkeley (Shapira), 20’
Rochelle Zell — E. Cohen (A. Cohen), 22’
Rochelle Zell — Berkeley (Shapira), 42’
Rochelle Zell — Shapira (Berkeley), 54’
Westmont — Ricciardi (UA), 70’