ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- Gwen Zimmerman came to the rescue when Fremd needed it most Friday night at Hersey’s Roland Goins Stadium.
The freshman bagged two second half goals to save the Vikings, who are ranked 17th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.
Zimmerman’s game-winner came in the 70th minute when she sliced through a crowd to drive home her header that gave her club a 2-1 victory.
The victory moved the Vikings (6-1-1, 5-0-1) atop the league table with 16 points, three more than Barrington (4-0-1) who was idle Friday, but has a game in hand.
"We knew coming in that Hersey was going to be a real tough opponent," said Zimmerman. “We came out really timid, and without any energy and not playing with any real confidence. They just dominated almost all of the first half.”
"We were not very good at all in that first half,” said Fremd manager Steve Keller. “I would say we were lucky to come out of that first half chasing just one goal.
"Hersey was very good in that first half. Although I thought we played somewhat better in the second half, I told the girls if we played 80 minutes of soccer the way we did tonight, we're going to have a difficult time when we play more quality opponents who are like Hersey."
While the Vikings claimed three key points on this lovely spring night, it would be wrong to say they grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, the way they’ve shown they can in earlier matches.
On the other side of the park, Hersey (5-5-1, 3-1-1) showed the kind of fight their manager Mike Rusniak had hoped for. He got a great effort from his young club, which has three freshmen and five sophomores on his roster. Three from those groups start.
"It's been an interesting year in that we win one, then lose one; win, lose,” said Rusniak. “Some of that is due to us sorting things out a bit and everyone getting used to having a player such as Meg (Mrowicki), who is a tremendous talent and addition to our team and program.
"Meg was so dominate in the first half, and everyone could see just why she will play next fall at Notre Dame. She brought everyone else into the game and helped us have pretty much all of the play in that first half.
"I really thought that late goal she scored just before the half provided the momentum we needed to carry into the second half. But when they got back even early into the half, it seemed to take the life out of us. We struggled to find ourselves for such a long while."
From its center back Natalie Suto, through the middle of the park with Abi Beck, Faith Sena and Kiki Kraft and right on top to Mrowicki and her freshman running mate Gracie Lisota, Hersey provided the pace, purpose and energy to keep Fremd on its collective back foot from the opening whistle.
During the first quarter hour, Mrowicki drove a trio of searing balls from the near endline through the box without a single Huskies kit in sight at the far post.
Fremd keeper Riley Gottsche saved a Mrowicki effort in the 11th minute, and another two minutes later after Hersey co-captain Ava Cismoski won her fourth-straight 50/50 challenge just inside the midline.
With Beck and Craft charging up and down the flanks to stretch Fremd in its end, more chances came the home side’s way. The Huskies led in the shots-on-goal column by an 8-2 margin at halftime.
"We played so well as a team in that first half, but we just were not as sharp as we needed to be in the final third," began Beck, who turned in a magnificent effort on the night.
"I really feel like if we could have put one or maybe two more of our chances in (during) that first half, the result might have been different."
Against the run of play, Gretchen Chianelli, just brought on by Rusniak, and Lisota conjured up a deep throw for the Huskies, which ended with Fremd senior Bella Scesniak blocking a close-range attempt from Mrowicki before it reached Gottsche.
"No. 22 (Mrowicki) put a lot of pressure on us,” said Keller. “That allowed others to be more involved, especially nos. 19 (Beck) and 23 (Craft). With their midfield winning a lot of balls and our inability to control the ball, it was a long first half for us."
This struggle in the middle of the park resulted in Vikings senior Leah Saxe being called to a more defensive posture. Previously, whether at the eight or 10 she has proven to be the kind of box-to-box player most teams hope to have on their roster.
During the first 40 minutes, Saxe rarely enjoyed a touch or foray in the Huskies end as she was forced to drop back to help defend along with forwards Ava Catherall and Zimmerman.
"It seemed like all we did in that first half was to defend; (we) just were not winning the 50-50 balls like we almost always do," said Catherall.
"We rarely got Zimmerman involved,” Keller said. “Even when we moved her back into the midfield, we were not able to find her or Saxe the ball," bemoaned Keller.
Scesniak provided the Vikings with their best chance of the first half when she delivered a well-paced and placed free kick that spilled to teammate Gemma Gillespie, whose effort was pushed up and over the bar by Hersey keeper Alli Paulsen.
Then Gillespie showed her defensive skill with a tackle of Mrowicki that stopped the senior from taking the ball into the box in the 34th minute.
Scesniak had a half-chance moments later off a deep throw. On the other end, Mrowicki ran onto a pair of early balls sent out of the back from Suto. The second produced a shot that Goettsche saved with confidence.
As the stadium clock moved under one minute, Suto put another ball into the area that Mrowicki took. When Goettsche came off her line to challenge, Mrowicki smashed her attempt with enough spin and pace to put the ball into the net.
"(Suto) was great all night,” said Rusniak. “Her ball to Meg gave us a great chance right there at the end of the half. I just wish we could have come out in the second half as we did in the first half."
Instead, Fremd came out with plenty more energy at the intermission. While it did not show in its passing or possession percentages, it did register in its first- and second-ball winning.
"(Keller) told us at the half we were not winning hardly any balls, and that our overall play wasn't sharp enough to compete. He was 100 percent right," said Zimmerman with a wry smile.
The effervescent freshmen, whose free-flowing style and superb speed with or without the ball make her so dangerous in the final third, took an early ball from Scesniak and raced up the left side from the midline. She turned at the endline before unloading a blistering low blast to draw the Vikings level in the 48th minute.
"I always look for a great ball from Bella (Scesniak),” said Zimmerman. “I knew if we connected, it gave me the chance to beat their outside back on that side," said Zimmerman.
"We were a completely different team after Gwen's first goal," added Catherall.
Just like that, she, Lily Mayer and Saxe came alive to jump start a Vikings attack which was stuck in neutral during the opening period.
Moments after the equalizer, Keller brought on Lia DiGirolamo and installed the sophomore at his right back to move Maddie McMillan to the center alongside Scesniak. That pushed Gemma Gillespie to the six, where her two-footed skill, ball-winning ability and distribution talent helped make the Vikings attack take form.
Hersey’s Beck and Lisota countered, which resulted in Lisota going over the bar just before the hour.
Saxe responded in kind, then watched Gillespie and Catherall set up Zimmerman for an attempt on frame.
Alli Paulsen made a strong and confident save on a snp shot by Zimmerman from 25 yards in the 67th minute. Saxe followed with a shot, but her close-range effort off a deep throw was blocked by the Huskies backline. the play gave the visitors their first corner of the half.
That's when Catherall swung a near-perfect corner into the box, and Zimmerman sliced through white and orange shirts to thump her powerful header into the back of the net.
"In that situation, you just have to trust that Ava will give a great ball into the box," said Zimmerman of her 70th minute strike. “She did, and I was there.”
"Just an amazing effort to get up in the air," added Catherall.
Despite falling behind, the home side kept its poise and came back to earn a free kick and deep throw before time. Beck drove a left-footed blast at Goettsche, whose reaction save in the 77th minute kept the Vikings advantage safe until the final whistle.
"We're obviously happy to get the three points tonight,” said Keller. “I am happy with us playing with a lot more fight in the second half.”
"We lost all of our momentum after their first goal, didn't win the 50-50 balls, or connect like we did so well in the first half," said Beck, who shared the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor with Zimmerman. “But the mood on the team is still very good. All of us are anxious to get back to training Monday to prepare for two games next week.
"It was truly a tale of two halves of soccer played tonight," began Rusniak.
"Overall, it was the best soccer we've played all year as a team. We did so many things real well. With the terrific group of juniors who provide great leadership, I see so much more improvement, which I know will continue as we go forward.
"We were deflated a little after they scored their first goal. It took us awhile to pull ourselves together, but it really was a very good effort from the girls. I believe we all learned a little something from this loss."
Next up for the Huskies is Schaumburg (3-4-1, 1-2-0) Wednesday on the road.
Less than 17 hours later, Fremd was back on the pitch for its annual cross-town rivalry game with Palatine, the Kinsella Cup. Goals from Zimmerman, Gillespie and Leah Saxe insured Derby Ddday delight with a 3-0 win that extended the Vikings win streak to six and unbeaten string to seven.
G- Riley Goettsche
D- Maddie McMillan
D- Gemma Gillespie
D- Bella Scesniak
D- Hanah Rosen
M- Lia DiGirolamo
M- Leah Saxe
M- Cami Tofilon
F- Lily Mayer
F- Ava Catherall
F- Gwen Zimmerman
G- Allie Paulsen
D- Asha Bontje
D- Finley Wilcox
D- Natalie Suto
D- Anni Caliendo
M- Abi Beck
M- Ava Cismoski
M- Faith Sena
M- Kiki Craft
F- Gracie Lisota
F- Meg Mrowicki
MVPs of the Match: Abi Beck, jr., MF, Hersey; Gwen Zimmerman, fr., F, Fremd
Referee: Marek Zacios
Hersey: Mrowicki (Suto), 40'
Fremd: Zimmerman (Scesniak), 48'
Fremd: Zimmerman (Catherall), 70'
Shots on goal