BARRINGTON -- The battle for the Mid-Suburban League West Division title went to the final match of the regular-season. Barrington knew only a victory would send them through. The Fillies didn’t flinch; they finished their business on the right side of the ledger with a 3-1 victory over Hersey on Saturday afternoon at Barrington Community Stadium.
Barrington left Fremd on the sideline again and continued its unprecedented streak with an 11th-consecutive MSL Soccer Cup appearance against the same Huskies at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Roland Goins Stadium in Arlington Heights.
"Fremd never let up all season long," said Fillies manager Ryan Stengren. “They made us be at our best each time we went out. They could have easily been in the (Cup) instead of us.”
The Fillies signed off on the triumph with three goals during a 10-minute span in the first half that dashed the hopes of Hersey. The Huskies would have liked nothing more than to end the long streak of the home side and go into the 33rd-annual MSL Soccer Cup with plenty of wind in its sails.
"I thought we came out with a lot of energy and great pace," began Huskies manager Mike Rusniak. “Honestly, I felt like we had a lot of the play.
"(But) Stengren always has his team so well-organized, and prepared. When they got that first goal, then the second right afterward you could feel the momentum switch so quickly in their favor. All of a sudden, we were chasing three goals at the break.”
Rusniak will manage in his second league championship match. The first was in 2019, when his Huskies lost a 1-0 decision to Barrington.
Overall, Hersey makes in ninth appearance. Former manager Darren Llewellyn led back-to-back visits in 2014 and 2015.
"It's been a fun year thus far, and all of us are thrilled to be playing in the final next week at home. It's great having another chance at Barrington," said Huskies senior Meg Mrowicki, whose return from club has energized the attack with her record-setting 26 goals this season and her ability to create for others.
"I really haven't played for almost a year and a half, so it's taken me a little while to get comfortable playing high school soccer, which is so different from club," continued the future Notre Dame student-athlete.
"I am feeling really good about how this team has come together and how our younger players have improved as the season has gone on. We'll be ready for Wednesday night for sure."
Barrington was tactically ready for Mrowicki and kept her chances at a minimum. There was always help close by to keep the Huskies star from turning and going to goal.
"(Mrowicki) is so strong and fast, but I thought we did a very good job all day long," said Stengren. “I felt like the play of Hannah Blue was key to it all today”
With a rash of injuries sustained during the Naperville Invitational, Blue was brought up from the JV club. After outside back Annie Tarpey was helped off the field in the sixth minute, Stengren called on the sophomore to take over.
"We're dealing with a lot of injuries right now, but our program depth has really come through for us lately,” said senior back Ellie Sanchez. “Today, Hannah really came through for us when we needed her most. As did Lucy Stanton, who is usually an outside forward, but was great as an outside mid for this game."
Central defenders Meredith McGreevy and Roos VanRoekel have formed a near airtight partnership along the back for the Fillies (16-0-2) in front of sophomore keeper Megan Holland, who is fast becoming one of the best in the area between the sticks.
This regular-season finale called for high drama because Barrington needed to match Fremd’s 10-0-1 record in league play.
The two played to a 1-1 draw in March and then proceeded to march through the league, which forced the tiebreaking protocol to come into play.
Due to the tie, and the facts that the teams had identical conference and division records, the fourth criteria came into play. The Fillies advanced because they won the rest of their league matches by two goals or more. Fremd recorded seven such wins.
Barrington was not sharp or fluid during the opening quarter hour while facing a strong wind in its face. Hersey (11-6-1, 8-2-1) was on its front foot.
Two corners and a pair of free kicks ended easily into the sure hands of Holland. Then the Fillies keeper was absolutely brilliant when she elevated quickly off her line to push a wicked long-range and wind-aided blast from Faith Sena up and over the bar in the 16th minute.
Sena and her mates in the middle of the park did well to win their fair share of 50/50 and second balls. That slowed and at times stalled Barrington’s attack. It finally came to life when Sarah Sarnowski went wide at 20 minutes, then saw her one-timer saved by Alli Paulsen after Piper Lucier sent her through moments later.
"We did not come out very strong at all today," said Fillies senior Brooke Brown, who along with Kate Lubinsky, Abby Raynor, McGreevy and Sanchez have have played in the last three MSL Soccer Cup finals. “We were slow to the ball, couldn't connect passes and just didn't look very good until that first goal.”
The opener came after Lubinsky smashed a shot that rebounded off Paulsen and spilled to Lucier, who with a bit of trickery carried the ball away from the Hersey keeper before slotting it into the back of the net in the 25th minute.
Hersey disputed Barrington’s backbreaking goal in the next minute -- Rusniak and his bench thought the center official missed a hand ball. Play did not stop and Stanton found Sarnowski, whose superb turn allowed the junior to beat two defenders to the top of the box. Once there, Sarnowski buried her effort with precision.
For her efforts, the junior shared Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honors with Hersey impact freshman Gracie Lisota.
The pressure continued. Lubinsky, through Sanchez and Sarnowski, just missed going into the back of the net at the back post before a trio of deep throws kept the visitors under pressure.
"That was a difficult time for us," said Rusniak. “After that second goal (leading) up to their third goal, we really had to weather a big storm before the half.”
The visitors might have gotten to the half down only two if not for a magnificent ball from Sarnowski that split the right side of the Hersey defense. It allowed Brown to drive her 16-yard attempt past Paulsen, who had no chance on the 36th-minute goal that firmly put the Fillies hands on the trophy.
"We finished the half with some very good soccer to go into the break with a three-goal advantage,” offered Brown. “That was important since we had the wind in the second half."
"(That) third goal was big for us," added Sanchez, who along with Lucier played on a yellow card. “Even though the effort was there, we played and looked a little tired in the second half.”
The talent pool runs deep at Barrington. Brown, Lucier, Raynor and Sanchez were all 2022 Chicagoland Soccer All-Staters.
Resilient Hersey will head back to the drawing board in preparation for its rematch in the title tilt.
"The thing that impressed me most about our team today, and for that matter all year long, we just do not hang our heads when things get rough for us, and you saw that today when we came out with so much energy after the break," said Rusniak.
VanRoekel’s and McGreevy’s attention to Mrowicki opened up other things for Hersey. Lisota put a left-footed attempt on goal that was saved by Holland.
Then VanRoekel came to the rescue with a strong tackle to end a potential 1-v-1 opportunity by Mrowicki after Kiki Craft sent her teammate through with a lovely early ball.
Lisota pulled one back for Hersey. On the turn, she drove her left-footed masterpiece into the far inside netting, just out of reach of Holland's valiant attempt to save.
The 64th-minute strike gave the visitors hope of drawing closer, but the Huskies were unable to get anything of quality on frame during a frantic, final 16 minutes.
"The fight and grit that we showed in the second half is something that I am very proud of,” said Rusniak. “That's something that we'll build off of in advance of the Cup.
"For those 10 minutes in the first half, it was their pressure, and ability to create and take chances that gave us some trouble. We'll clean some things up."
"We're excited to be playing on Wednesday,” Stengren said. “It's been a really tough couple of weeks for this team, which included playing in three-straight games (and winning the championship) at the Naperville Invitational last weekend.
"We may be a little tired, and not 100 percent healthy, but the focus of this team always remains at a high level.
"We came back from our 4-0 win at Elk Grove last night (Friday) and had a walk-thru for this game at 9:30 a.m. Each and every player was laser focused on Hersey, and Hersey only, which I was very proud of."
GK- Alli Paulsen
D- Annie Caliendo
D- Natalie Suto
D- Finley Wilcox
D- Kiki Craft
M- Asha Bontje
M- Gretchen Chianelli
M- Faith Sena
M- Ava Cismoski
F- Gracie Lisota
F- Meg Mrowicki
G- Megan Holland
D- Ellie Sanchez
D- Roos VanRoekel
D- Meredith McGreevy
D- Annie Tarpey
M- Kate Lubinsky
M- Maddy Ziebarth
M- Lucy Stanton
F- Sarah Sarnowski
F- Brooke Brown
F- Piper Lucier
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Gracie Lisota, fr., F, Hersey;
Sarah Sarnowski, jr., F, Barrington
Referee: Adrian Werbiecki
Barrington: Lucier (Lubinsky) 25'
Barrington: Sarnowski (Brown) 26'
Barrington: Brown (Sarnowski) 35'
Hersey: Lisota (U/A) 64'