LEMONT-- Lemont was scheduled to open South Suburban Conference Blue Division play against TF United on the road Tuesday. Due to field conditions at Thornton Fractional North, the match was moved to the Lemont Sports Complex.
And while the elevated pitch south of the stadium was a bit on the wet side, Lemont's players didn’t seem to mind skipping the long trek to Calumet City. Instead got the opportunity to play their home opener two weeks earlier than anticipated.
Although Lemont practiced just once on the field prior to the match, it wasn't evident. The replacement hosts clicked from the outset. In its first match on grass, Lemont scored twice in the initial 3:36 of play and adding two more goals before the break en route to a 5-0 victory.
Senior Paige Bingen controlled the play with well-placed passes, and sophomore Ella Simpson collected three of her team's initial four goals to share the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor.
Coach Rick Prangen's squad looked sharp, despite not having played since March 17, after it went 1-2-0 over four days in Reavis' Windy City Ram Classic.
After Simpson's unassisted opener, freshman Annabella DeMaio scored the second goal of the match following an assist from junior Emma Amberg, who later scored the final goal in the second half.
Simpson was assisted by junior Casey Kittridge on the third goal and by senior Suzie Knutte on the fourth tally.
Sophomore keeper Lauren Tracy denied the few threats that came her way to record the shutout.
The four-goal outburst in just over 25 minutes was a welcome sight after consecutive Windy City Ram Classic losses against eventual champion Lincoln-Way Central (6-0) and ninth place bracket winner Plainfield South (2-1).
Lemont (2-2-0), which opened the event with a 7-0 victory over Marian, will have plenty of time to prepare to build off Tuesday's victory. The team returns to action April 8 for the opening round of the Lockport Invitational. Lemont is a second round host April 11 for the tournament, which ends April 13.
The TF United win will build confidence.
"Ella getting the first goal really helped us, because it got our momentum going," Bingen said. "I just wanted to make sure to distribute the ball to the outsides, since that's what we've been working on at practice. As long as the middles connected, then we could get it out wide and play through-balls.
“I feel that once we started connecting, we were able to get forward and get more shots off, which was helpful. And the defense did a good job of covering for each other.
"They're good teams (in the Lockport Invitational), but we'll practice hard this week. This was our first game on grass so we had to kind of adapt to those conditions. Our first practice was on it yesterday. It was really nice to see us hitting the ball hard, because on turf you have to hit it a little lighter, so that was good.
"I like that we're like a family. Our word for the year is family, and I think that we're all pretty close. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and keep people accountable. And I think that we do a good job of moving the ball around."
Lemont scored on its first two shots on goal. The match-winner came in the third minute when Simpson lined home a free kick from about 25 yards.
Fifty-seven seconds later in the fourth minute, Amberg fired a pass not far from the sideline that went to DeMaio in front. She netted the close-range attempt to give the hosts an early 2-0 advantage.
Next, Knutte, a Chicagoland Soccer All-State honoree last season, was denied on a couple of close tries. Afterward, TF United had its best effort of the first half on a long free kick.
Lemont scored its next two goals in quick fashion. Simpson collected both to complete her hat-trick.
The first came in the 24th minute on another set piece when Kittridge sent a corner kick in front of the net, and Simpson put in a short shot. Less than two minutes later, Knutte found Simpson, who scored another close-range attempt to make it 4-0.
"We wanted to get the game going with some energy," Simpson said of her tally on the early free kick and the goal by DeMaio that quickly made it 2-0. "(The early schedule) will definitely get us into shape, and it will help us to figure out what we need to work on during practice.
"I love that the team is like a family. We all laugh together, and we all cry together. It's just like we're all best friends, and we all hang out. And I love that we're very fierce competitors. I'm excited for the season."
In the early part of the final half, senior Natalia Zalinski sent an attempt a bit wide. Then Knutte, who collected a 27-5 record in wrestling and qualified for the IHSA Girls Individual State Finals in February, was stymied by a defender. Later, she then sent a pass to Amberg, who narrowly missed the net. Simpson had an opportunity to connect for a fourth time on a free kick a little later, but it went over the net.
Lemont concluded the scoring in the 58th minute when Amberg got to a loose ball and fired in a hard shot from about 15 yards. The hosts continued to apply pressure over the next few minutes. Freshman Maggie Davey and DeMaio both were denied on good tries. Freshman Chase Bergeson got free in front but sent her shot just over the net.
Lemont prevented TF United from getting many good chances to record its second shutout. Defenders Nicole Bobcik, a senior, and junior Daria Koslosky joined Kittridge and Bergeson with contributions to the clean-sheet.
Prangen is one of nine Illinois coaches with 400 or more girls wins and one of eight with 300 or more boys victories. He is one of just three individuals, with current Downers Grove North coach Brian Papa and Wheaton Warrenville South's Guy Callipari, to combine those totals.
With Prangen at the helm, Lemont's girls have earned hardware from six state tournaments between 2009-2018. Overall, Lemont has won eight sectional championships, 17 regional titles and 18 conference titles.
While the veteran coach hopes that this will be another successful campaign, he still needs to see more of his squad over the next couple of weeks in matches and practices before he has a good idea about what they can do.
"It was our first game on grass, and we only trained really one day, and that was yesterday, a little bit. We also played on a bigger field," Prangen said. "Those are all good things, and I thought that our spacing was really good today.
“We were able to keep the ball quite well. ... It was a good way to come out at home and play a game and get something under our belt. We're off again for a little bit of time before the Lockport tournament.
"Obviously, with Ella getting that goal right away on the free kick, that relieves all pressure and you can start playing more relaxed, more freely.
“I thought that Paige probably was the player of the match just from her work-rate in the midfield, and she was our link-up player the entire time. I know that Ella got a hat-trick, but Paige's work in the back third going forward -- she was our go-to girl. I thought she did really, really well on that.
"To be honest, other than this game, the two tournaments are all preseason. It's just all figuring out what you have and who you can play against. We got pushed pretty hard against some good teams at Windy City. At Lockport we'll play Streamwood in the first game and either Lincoln-Way East or Downers Grove North (in the second round). We'll get pushed big time on those.
"We're working on our shape a little bit and still figuring out who we want to play where. We moved a couple of girls around in this game, and I thought they got better and more comfortable. We learned a lot from the Windy City and the Lincoln-Way Central game. So those were all good experiences and hopefully we can continue to have a good run in the conference and perform well in the tournament and get ready for the state tournament. Those are all in the progression."
New coach Aaron Zambrano has taken the reins at TF United.
"This is my first year ... in the program, though I have recruited from them in the past," said Zambrano, who coaches at South Suburban College in the fall. "So I was a little familiar with the team.
"When I took over, I was told right away about Lemont and how they are a great team and have a great coaching staff. Tonight, that showed.
"It was a good test to see where we were at and what we needed to improve, individually and as a team.
"I stress the importance of self-reflection after every game, win or lose. From the players to the coaching staff, there is always room for improvement, and it starts within.
"The team is slowly learning the system and how to play it. We haven’t had the best of luck this season when it comes to practicing and games since our field is under maintenance and because of the rain, but the girls have stepped it up and worked hard every practice."
Seniors Berenice Zepeda, Katie Juarez and captains Alanis Gonzalez and Zayda Gil lead T.F. United.
"We are still missing a key piece in our attack, Karen Zepeda, but I’m hoping she can join us in the next week or so," Zambrano said.
GK: Angela Mendez
D: Zayda Gil
D: Jackelin Vargas
D: Yanetzi Alba
D: Janaliz Meraz Cabrales
MF: Edith Ramos
MF: Katie Juarez
MF: Diana Delgado
MF: Jazmine Herrera
F: Berenice Zepeda
F: Teniola Odutusin
GK: Lauren Tracy
D: Daria Koslosky
D: Chase Bergeson
D: Nicole Bobcik
D: Casey Kittridge
MF: Emma Amberg
MF: Ella Simpson
MF: Paige Bingen
MF: Natalia Zalinski
F: Suzie Knutte
F: Annabella DeMaio
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Paige Bingen, sr., MF, Lemont; Ella Simpson, so., MF, Lemont
Lemont: Simpson (unassisted), 3'
Lemont: DeMaio (Amberg), 4'
Lemont: Simpson (Kittridge), 24'
Lemont: Simpson (Knutte), 26'
Lemont: Amberg (unassisted), 58'