SCHAUMBURG – Before their Body Armor first-round game against Nazareth was decided by penalty kicks Saturday, Riverside-Brookfield’s Bulldogs had to spend a long time sitting and waiting.
Lightning led to a gap of about 50 minutes with the teams locked in a 1-1 tie and six minutes left in regulation. After the break, referees and tournament officials decided to skip the remainder of the game and go straight to penalty kicks.
“I think we were just trying to recuperate and focus on what was left,” junior forward Hazel Hall said. “Nazareth scored a good goal to come back, and we were getting kind of frazzled. We wanted to collect ourselves, and it was a good opportunity to sit and think.”
Riverside-Brookfield showed no rust when it returned to the field. The Bulldogs were composed and clinical, making all their penalties in a 4-2 shootout win over the Roadrunners.
“It was a little intimidating at first, going straight to PKs. But we knew we played such a tough game originally, and that it was almost over,” Hall said. “We had to focus our energy – whatever was left – into calmly scoring those PKs.”
Hall set the tone for the Bulldogs (8-3-0), taking the first kick and blasting a line drive inside the left post.
“I think there’s some leeway to taking the first PK, because you know there are people behind you. But in another sense I think there’s kind of a greater responsibility, because you have to show people not what to do, but how to calmly take it,” Hall said.
“I tried to focus not so much on power but on placement, because I think that’s always the key.”
Lucy Drenth and Lena Lembcke followed with confident makes for the Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, Nazareth (3-5-0) started with a miss before Olivia O’Neill and Layden Almer converted to keep the Roadrunners close.
In the fourth round, Riverside-Brookfield junior midfielder Niamh Larson slotted a shot in the right side of the net, which proved to be the final score the Bulldogs needed after the next Nazareth shooter ripped a shot off the crossbar.
Later, Larson danced in a circle of her teammates as Riverside-Brookfield celebrated the win.
“I’m pumped,” Larson said. “It was a good win. We fought hard. Going 1-1 and going straight to PKs after the break was not ideal, but we made it happen.”
Larson, who also scored in regulation, earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor. She said the lightning delay presented a challenge, but the Bulldogs were able to overcome it.
“We did just sit around, hydrated and chilled,” she said. “We thought we were going to play the last six minutes, so we were getting ready for that, but it didn’t happen. So, we just had to focus.”
Nazareth coach Roberto Cianci thought his team struggled with the unique circumstances.
“I think it was the team really getting inside of their own heads, being cold then and just putting the pressure on themselves,” Cianci said. “To come off cold and not actually play the game, it was a difficult situation. I almost wish we just played a few minutes to get their legs fresh.”
Cianci was pleased, though, with the way his team played, especially in the second half.
After Larson’s goal in the third minute, Riverside-Brookfield had all the early momentum. The Roadrunners, though, started fighting back late in the first half.
Bulldogs goalkeeper Piper Blair came up with a pair of strong saves to deny Almer late in the half.
Nazareth then found the equalizer in the 49th minute when junior defender Evelyn Sifferman played a long pass out of the back and into the box. Freshman forward Lucy Jucovics collected it there, made a quick move and scored from 10 yards.
“Coach always tells us to run diagonally, so I ran across and was able to settle it pretty well and then popped it into the corner with my left foot,” Jucovics said. “After the goal, I think that brought all the momentum back, and I like the way we fought hard.”
Nazareth’s momentum – and its time with the wind advantage in the second half – was cut short by the weather.
“We did really good, and I think if we had the rest of that time, maybe we could have scored another,” Jucovics said.
Larson’s goal for Riverside-Brookfield in the third minute came on an opportunistic individual moment. She pressured Nazareth goal as keeper Sophie Hynes tried to handle a pass back to her.
When the ball slipped free, Larson pounced and poked it in.
“They passed it back to the goalie, and I decided to run up and pressure her. Then I just tapped it in. Simple,” Larson said. “We for sure needed to score first. It just helped us get all our mindsets better, and we just played a better game after that.”
Riverside-Brookfield coach Ivek Halic liked his team’s performance.
“I’m very pleased with how they played from start to finish,” Halic said. “We still have work to do, but they were very composed, working out of the back.
“We had opportunities to extend the lead. It wasn’t like we just kind of sat back. We were pressing. We had numerous opportunities. It was a pretty even match. I liked the leadership and the composure.”
The Bulldogs nearly made it 2-0 just before halftime when Natalie Rubi took a pass from Ella Caputo and ripped a 20-yard shot off the crossbar. The ball bounced down off the bar but was ruled to have stayed out of the goal.
Riverside-Brookfield had to do some holding on in the second half to keep the game tied. In the end, though, the Bulldogs were ready for the moment in the shootout.
In the process, they earned some bragging rights between two schools located less than four miles apart.
“Naz is such a tough opponent,” Hall said. “We play them almost every year, and we hadn’t beaten them in like four years, so we really wanted this.
“My club coach had a bet on who would win and picked Naz, and I was like, ‘I’m going to win this. I don’t care what you say.’ We had motivation. I said I wasn’t going to let that slide.”
GK: Sophie Hynes
D: Evelyn Sifferman
D: Andrea Stavropoulos
D: Lily Berner
D: Izzy Strnic
MF: Olivia O’Neill
MF: Samantha Rozmus
MF: Layden Almer
MF: Lucy Jucovics
F: Ella O’Neill
F: Trea Notz
GK: Piper Blair
D: Lucy Drenth
D: Jessica Sharenow
D: Sophie Swicionis
D: Lena Lembcke
MF: Ella Caputo
MF: Niamh Larson
MF: Cassidy Erb
MF: Nina Bretz
F: Natalie Rubi
F: Hazel Hall
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match:
Niamh Larson, jr. MF, Riverside-Brookfield
R-B: Larson (unassisted), 3’
NAZ: Jucovics (Sifferman), 49’
Shootout (R-B wins PKs 4-2
R-B: Hall (make), Drenth (make), Lembcke (make), Larson (make)
NAZ: E. O’Neill (miss), O. O’Neill (make), Almer (make), Stavropoulos (miss)