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Lazenby's levitations lift St. Charles East over Fremd

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 04/28/23, 3:30PM CDT


Spectacular saves help Saints earn Naperville Invitational semifinal berth

PALATINE — Keepers live in their own carefully constructed world, sometimes on an island, other times in a crowded urban environment with everything jammed together.

The art and skill of the job is negotiating time and space and sometimes dealing with nerve-shredding anticipation.

Sophomore Sidney Lazenby of St. Charles East worked her apprenticeship last season, sharing time and opportunities with older, more experienced players.

She came of age late in the season, solidified the Saints’ back and played a crucial part in their run to a Class 3A supersectional appearance.

Lazenby has started every game save for one this season. She is the anchor of a defense that has conceded just seven goals.

“Our backline is very comfortable together, and we have a really strong connection back there,” Lazenby said. “Communication is what really holds us together.

“I trust all my center backs, and they hopefully trust me. I think that's good, which is what makes all of these shutouts possible.”

Lazenby made a spectacular diving stop off a free kick in the 71st minute to preserve the Naperville Invitational quarterfinal win for the Fighting Saints, who are ranked second in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, over no. 4 and host Fremd on Thursday night.

St. Charles East (16-0-0) will advance to the semifinal against cross-town rival and ninth-listed St. Charles North at 7 p.m. Friday at Naperville Central.

In a rematch of the first game of the season, third-ranked Barrington faces no. 9 Naperville North in the 5 p.m. semifinal.

The Saints ended the 12-game unbeaten streak of the Vikings (11-2-1), a bookend to St. Charles East’s 3-1 victory, also  in the opening game of the year.

The most consequential action of the second half came from the left wing about 19 yards out. Fremd midfielder Gemma Gillespie drilled a beautiful ball that curved toward the far post.

Lazenby made a great read, and left her feet for the superb deflection.

“It was a great shot that was well-placed, and I just dove and I got there, which was really good,” she said.

On the ensuing corner kick, Lazenby elevated for another stellar stop, her seventh of the game. In a high-level game with minimal scoring chances, set pieces loomed large over the outcome.

“Their corners were amazing,” Lazenby said. “They curled in a lot, which threw me off. The girl had an in step, so I thought it would curve outwards, but she was able to somehow curve it inward. 

“I just had to judge the ball well on that one.”

St. Charles East defender Mackenzie Loomis scored the game's only goal off a deft header from six yards in the 26th minute after a corner service from midfielder Kara Machala.

In a nutshell, that was the game. St. Charles East delivered on its crucial set piece.

“I was disappointed we didn’t have a body on her, but what a finish,” Fremd coach Steve Keller said. “That was brilliant.”

It marked the third time this season Loomis has scored on a header off a Machala assist.

“There was a lot of space in the box tonight to run into, and I was able to exploit that,” Machala said. 

“I just explained that to Mackenzie, and I was able to find her.”

Fremd was stymied by Lazenby, who earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for her excellent play.

The game marked a significant measuring and reckoning of the place of both teams among the state’s best programs.

“I think since our first game of the season was also against Fremd, we wanted to prove that beating them once was not a fluke,” Loomis said.

“This game definitely proved we could play against tougher teams.”. 

Fremd ripped off 10-consecutive wins, including a shootout victory over previously unbeaten and untied Lyons in group play.

“The first time we played them was the first game of the season, and we weren’t ready yet,” Fremd midfielder Kaitlyn Roti said. “As the season has gone on, and both of us have gained more confidence, we knew it was going to be a hard fight.

“We gave it all, but they are a great team.”

Fremd earned a reprieve moments after the Loomis goal. In the 27th minute, St. Charles East forward Grace Williams was awarded a penalty kick after she was fouled inside the box.

The Saints’ leading goal-scorer hit her attempt off the right post and watched it go across the goal and carom off the left post and away to prevent the visitors from increasing their lead.

St. Charles East’s three-pronged forward attack of Williams in the middle flanked by Ella Stehman and Mia Raschke has been a driving force.

Machala’s pinpoint passing and accuracy distributing the ball unlocks the offense.

Small, but telling, gestures can sometimes be the difference-maker. Stehman created pressure and a deflection off a Vikings defender that generated the game-winning corner kick.

With Gillespie and Roti in the middle, and Leah Saxe providing a sharp pressure release on the outside, Fremd created some intriguing offensive possibilities.

The Vikings are also very skilled at the top with Ava Catherall precocious freshman Gwen Zimmerman at the top.

“I thought especially in the first half, they had more opportunities on goal, or more dangerous offensive attacks,” Keller said. 

“I’d still like to see a little bit more out of our girls. I feel like we gave them too much respect. We should respect them, but not too much. We have to come and believe in ourselves, and also take it to an opponent at the same time.”

Keller said the score of the first game was misleading; the Vikings failed to convert two breakaway opportunities. Fremd knocked on the door.

“We were always two goals off, and it wears you down over the course of a game if you are always chasing,” he said. “We still created some opportunities I was pleased with, but we have to bring a full game together.”

Fremd keeper Emily Gordon was sharp. She posted five saves, including a point-blank stop on Williams at the start of the second half.

“This game is just fueling us to continue growing and learn our lessons,” Roti said.

The rivalry of the St. Charles' schools now takes on a curious twist. The semifinal matchup marks the first time ever the two teams have played each other in the Naperville Invitational.

Their meeting in the championship of the Rose Augsburg-Drach Invitational in March was scrapped by the weather. Now they are going to play each other twice in five days.

The teams meet Tuesday at the Tri-Cities Night event in Batavia with the conference championship at stake.

“We are starting to get really consistent and just really connect as a team,” Machala said. “Off the field, we are getting even closer and bonding a lot more than we did at the start of the season.

“I think that has really helped us improve on the field, connecting our passes and taking care of the little things.”


Starting lineups

St. Charles East
GK: Sidney Lazenby
D: Amanda Stepien
D: Mackenzie Loomis
D: Lauren Silvestri
MF: Georgia Desario
MF: Alli Saviano
MF: Kara Machala
MF: Tia Bernstein
F: Ella Stehman
F: Grace Williams
F: Mia Raschke

GK: Emily Gordon
D: Hanah Rosen
D: Bella Scesniak
D: Maddie McMillan
D: Lia DiGirolamo
MF: Gemma Gillespie
MF: Kaitlyn Roti
MF: Leah Saxe
F: Cami Tofilon
F: Gwen Zimmerman
F: Ava Catherall

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Sidney Lazenby, so., GK, St. Charles East

Scoring summary

First half
St. Charles East—Mackenzie Loomis (Kara Machala), 28th minute

Second half
No scoring