WEST CHICAGO – Ava Elders has scored enough goals during her years at Burlington Central that she knows that it doesn’t matter if they look pretty or ugly, a goal is a goal.
She scored a less than attractive one and then an exclamatory one to seal a 3-1 victory at Wheaton Academy during a rain-soaked Thursday night of early season nonconference action.
Elders, who had the assist on the game-winning goal and scored the other two, was named the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match for her contributions.
“We have a great team and most of us have played at a high level,” said the Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List player. “So I think that really helps us keep the momentum going. And positive encouragement. That’s how we were able to get those three goals. We just kept encouraging each other and kept playing.”
After surrendering a goal that no one who arrived 20 seconds late witnessed, the Rockets pitched a shutout and scored three unanswered goals in the second half. Elders drew the Rockets even just 2:27 after halftime, securing possession of an Eva Boer free kick that almost trickled out of bounds.
“The goalie couldn’t handle the free kick, and it almost slid out of bounds,” Elders said. “It was super close.”
Kendal Grigg, who would score the go-ahead goal about seven minutes later, provided positive encouragement to the ball to help it stay in bounds for Elders to clean up and score.
“I was like ‘Don’t go out! don’t go out!’” Grigg said. “It was a great thing for the team and really what we needed. And we’re really starting to come together, and it’s looking amazing ahead. I’m so excited.”
Then freshman Grigg had the speed, footwork and presence of mind to get downfield and catch up with a ball from Elders that skipped its way through the defense and set up a 1-v-1 chance. She converted with an aggressive lined shot with 30:35 left to play for a 2-1 lead.
Passing the ball was a thing of beauty at times for the Rockets. While they didn’t maintain possession on some of their lengthier tries, the aggressiveness was there to keep the pressure was ramped up to make things uncomfortable for the Warriors.
“We want to be passing and combining up the field,” Rockets coach Jess Arneson said. “It took a little bit to get there, but we got there.”
Seeing early success is a certainly a positive for this Rockets team, but it’s so early that Arneson and her kids are just getting reacquainted with playing the game outdoors again.
“Right now, we’re just happy to get out on the field,” Arneson said. “They (Wheaton Academy) have got turf, and we’ve been stuck in the gym for two-and-a-half weeks. So, we’re happy to be playing again.”
The girls probably won’t be happy having to watch the first 18 seconds of Thursday’s game film on Friday, but after the final result they’ll survive. Indigestion from too much Irish cuisine is likely to be more upsetting on St. Patty’s Day than watching a short clip of a super-sluggish start.
“I told them we’re going to be watching that,” Arneson. “We’ll be watching those first 18 seconds about 10 times over tomorrow.”
Grigg acknowledged that the Rockets were surprised to yield such a quick goal.
“I think it just caught us off guard,” she said. “I think that it’s something that definitely can’t happen. The next time we won’t let that happen. We learned our lesson early, so it served a purpose.”
Wheaton Academy's Becca Schulenburg took one of the Warriors best and final scoring chances with about nine minutes remaining. After showing off her talented foot skills, the junior turned and fired a shot from 20 yards, but Burlington Central’s freshman goalkeeper Mckenzie Lorkowski made the save.
Elders, who scored 15 goals last season for a 6-14-0 Rockets team, ensured the victory with 1:36 left to play when she pounced on Haley Lindquist’s cross and redirected it with a foot-to-net deposit.
It provided a solid finish to the game and a good end to a competitive first week of soccer for the Rockets, who lost 2-1 at 16th-ranked Naperville Central on Wednesday in their opener.
“The game against Naperville Central was the best game we’ve had against them in the last three years,” Elders said. “And we didn’t beat Wheaton Academy my sophomore year.”
Wheaton Academy (0-2-0) had one of the greatest starts you can have in a soccer match.
Haley Serna served the ball in while Schulenburg made a run down the line to get the Warriors started in a big way. Schulenburg cut in on the slick surface and dribbled past a player before playing the ball to the top of the box. From there, Fiona Davis confidently finished just 18 seconds into play.
“We just pressed hard, and they were on their heels,” Wheaton Academy coach Maria Selvaggio said. “I think it was a great start. I’ve never seen us score that way and score that quickly.”
Davis helped give the Warriors a boost when they needed one. They started the night without junior midfielder Grace Platt, junior forward Eva DeSouza (15 goals, 8 assists career) and junior midfielder Katelyn Schoepke (2 goals, 4 assists career). Schoepke is the most recent loss after she suffered an upper body blow during Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to 10th-ranked Benet.
“We talked in the locker room before we came out,” Schulenburg said. “Step with pressure because we played Benet, and we weren’t pressuring fast enough. So, from the very beginning it was pressure right away, pressure right away. All of us stepped and Serna got the ball. Then I was on that run, and already slotted it in. They weren’t ready for it, and Fiona was there.”
The Warriors could’ve used a few more similar plays but were silenced for the final 79 minutes. The missed opportunities included a nice cross from junior Anna Africa that went unconnected with 15 minutes left.
“We have a lot to work on, and we believe we have a very talented group,” Selvaggio said. “We just have had a slow start this week. It doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard and hustle. It’s just a slick night and a tough battle.”
Getting on the same page while battling injuries is a huge challenge, especially now that the season is in its first week of real action.
“The biggest thing I notice is our team chemistry is really off right now,” Schulenburg said. “We really need to be more connected especially in the middle. Our backline and our offense, we’re playing two separate games right now. There is a big gap right now, and I think a big thing is fixing that and (following) our team motto.”
You can find those words in the Bible in Romans. “Be of the same mind toward one another.”
“Same mind, same voice,” Schulenburg said. “But we aren’t playing that way right now, and we haven’t the past two games. We have three key players who are out right now, so I’m hoping once we get back into the rhythm, once we get practices again, we can really focus on connecting more as a team. We didn’t really reflect that today.”
GK: Mckenzie Lorkowski
D: Rylee Butler
D: Emersyn Fry
D: Brianna Domaleczny
D: Mia Kerr
MF: Eva Samuelian
MF: Kendal Grigg
MF: Haley Lindquist
MF: Sydney Batts
MF: Ava Elders
MF: Eva Boer
GK: Noelle Niekamp
D: Lexi Rojek
D: Jillian Paulson
D: Haleigh Manske
D: Britta Love
MF: Hannah Lindberg
MF: Becca Schulenburg
F: Haley Serna
F: Fiona Davis
F: Mia Filippo
F: Anna Africa
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Ava Elders, sr., MF, Burlington Central
Wheaton Academy: Fiona Davis (Becca Schulenburg), 1st minute
Burlington Central: Ava Elders (Eva Boer), 43rd minute
Burlington Central: Kendal Grigg (Ava Elders), 50th minute
Burlington Central: Ava Elders (Haley Lindquist), 79th minute