RIVER FOREST — Soccer is a mash of emotions with nothing so visceral and revealing as facing the team that ended your dream.
“We had a long memory, because of what happened last year,” De La Salle midfielder Mia Ortega said.
The stakes were not quite as consequential Tuesday as the Class AA supersectional Fenwick captured in a shootout en route to their fourth place state finish last spring.
On a beautiful and radiant afternoon, two teams entered the match thrilled at the opportunity to prove something vital and pure.
De La Salle wanted to show it is not a flash in the pan but something deeper and richer — a program meant to stay in the conversation.
Fenwick had something to add, injuries and all.
Ortega struck first with a beautiful header. Fenwick countered with a wonderful late-scoring sequence capped by Grace Kapsch that created the 1-1 tie in the GCAC crossover game at the Friars’ Priority field.
Fenwick (2-7-3) fought off injuries and presented a revamped roster.
“I think it was really important for us to stay up and focused, even though we are down some players,” Fenwick sophomore Emma Maria Bassett said.
The season doesn’t stop, and injuries are an unfortunate byproduct of the game.
“I think our team has really been adjusting to the challenges of having other players out that we are normally used to playing with,” Bassett said.
“I think we are adjusting well and figuring out our new dynamic as we wait for them to recover.”
The modern player is nothing if not adaptable and used to playing different positions. One consequence of club culture is the expanded possibilities and the chance at trying out different positions.
Fenwick sophomore Kiera Mullarkey, who was the third-leading scorer on last year’s state team, had moved from up-top to the middle. She started at left outside back against De La Salle.
In a similar vein, the Meteors (8-2-3) have played the entire season without talented senior midfielder/defender and captain Mia Loza. De La Salle has young talent to burn with players like midfielders Imani Coleman and Kennedi Carpenter.
Ortega has been superb oscillating between the middle or top of the attack.
“This game was more meaningful to us because of last year,” Ortega said. “I think at the beginning of the game, we were trying to take shots when we probably should have taken another touch or made a pass.
“In the second half, we were able to correct some of our mistakes that we were making.”
Ranked second in the Chicagoland Soccer Class AA Super 7 poll, De La Salle has made the shift from being an insurgent program to an established team with heightened expectations.
“It’s frustrating, and sometimes difficult, when you get into a tied game like this. You are battling hard and doing a lot out there, but we did a good job of showing up for each other’s backs,” Coleman said.
“Even though this game feels like a loss as a team, I definitely feel like we grew a lot today.”
Carpenter and Coleman play off each other beautifully with their overlapping talents, a sharp combination of size, speed and athleticism.
In the 43rd minute, Coleman got free on the right wing and served a sharp ball into the box.
Ortega caught Fenwick keeper Leah Hyland off her line, and scored her eighth goal of the year on a header.
“We’re slowly growing as a team, and building from each other and learning from each as well as getting to know how we play,” Ortega said. “As we move further into the year, we are going to fix those mistakes and be even better.”
The Meteors goal naturally shifted the pressure to Fenwick.
The Friars were coming off a deeply competitive and intense series of games, moving directly from the Body Armor event into group play at the Naperville Invitational.
Fenwick played previously ranked Hinsdale Central to a scoreless regulation before losing in the penalty shootout.
Going up against New Trier, which is ranked eighth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, Fenwick trailed by just one goal at the half before falling 3-0 to the Naperville Invitational quarterfinalist.
De La Salle represented another gifted, tenacious opponent.
With forward Susie Shank out, Fenwick went with just Grace Kapsch at the top of the formation. Maddie Rogowski, a normal midfielder, played in the back to stabilize the defense.
Bassett demonstrated quickness and skill on the ball, especially in concert with midfielder Fiona Roche.
“Four players were hurt last week, in either games or practice, and then we had to play some really good teams over the weekend missing five or six starters,” Roche said.
“The New Trier game helped us play this game. We got scored on pretty early there, and then held them down the rest of the half.”
In the 58th minute, Kapsch got inside the box on a sharp cross, but the tangle of bodies shut down any clear shot. De La Salle dug in to protect its lead, while Fenwick turned up the heat.
“As a captain, I think it’s my job to create a sense of urgency with the other girls, and have to get them going, even when we are tired,” Roche said.
Fenwick's answer played out in the 67th minute.
Bassett and Roche played the ball off in the middle of the attack, catching the Meteors off guard. Their sing-song movement ended with Roche’s ball redirected by Bassett down the left flank.
Kapsch beat her defender, pulling De La Salle keeper Emily Samuels out of the goal, and buried the left-wing shot just past the grasp of the keeper from 17 yards.
“I definitely think that in the last minutes, something clicked for us, and we knew that all of the balls were basically on our side the last few minutes,” Kapsch said.
“We wanted to take advantage of that. Up until then, we had these chances that we couldn’t finish, and we finally were able to capitalize.”
The final moments yielded some significant moments for both sides.
In the 75th minute, Coleman smashed a left-footed ball from 14 yards on the left wing that Hyland stabbed in a sharp moment.
In the 77th minute, Roche had a golden opportunity off a free kick on the left edge of the box.
“We were trying to set it up, and I was trying to get the ball to the back post, and it didn’t quite get there,” Roche said. “If we had just gotten the ball into the front of the goal, we’d have a better chance of scoring.”
For their respective play, Mia Ortega and Grace Kapsch shared the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor.
“Other girls are having to step up and contribute something, and that has been nice seeing them get playing time, and getting a chance to show what they could do,” Kapsch said.
Even though De La Sale was deprived of its revenge, the team showed toughness and spirit.
“We were hoping to beat them. But then we made a mistake and we gave away a goal,” Ortega said.
“Hopefully we will see them farther down the road. I am pretty sure we have a better chance, and we are looking forward to it.”
De La Salle
GK: Emily Samuels
D: Joanna Mullen
D: Sophia Torres
D: Lauren Torres
D: Vicky Luna
MF: Kennedi Carpenter
MF: Dixie Zamago
MF: Samantha Velasco
MF: Imani Coleman
F: Sissi Loza
F: Mia Ortega
GK: Leah Hyland
D: Kiera Mullarkey
D: Finley Dondlinger
D: Elle Dvorak
D: Lola Martinez
MF: Alex Ballinger
MF: Maddie Rogowski
MF: Mary Brunick
MF: Fiona Roche
MF: Emma Maria Bassett
F: Grace Kapsch
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match:
Mia Ortega, jr., MF, De La Salle;
Grace Kapsch, jr., F, Fenwick
De La Salle—Mia Ortega (Imani Coleman), 43rd minute
Fenwick—Grace Kapsch (Fiona Roche/Emma Maria Bassett), 67th minute