LISLE – Benet midfielder Reese MacDonald went home from school on Thursday suffering from a migraine.
Then she returned to campus and gave Kaneland a headache.
MacDonald scored what became the game-winning goal – on a header, of course – as the Redwings finished their regular-season with an impressive 6-1 rout of the visiting Knights, a team they could face again in the Class 2A Nazareth Sectional semifinals.
The strike, which gave the Redwings (15-4-0) a 2-0 lead, came with 28:35 left in the first half off a corner kick. Keira Petrucelli made a short pass to Ivana Vukas, whose cross went in front to MacDonald, who bounced her header past Kaneland goalkeeper Gillian McDonald.
“That was nice,” MacDonald said. “That was really fun because we’ve been working on corners and finishing on those, working on our services and timing our runs. Sometimes I’ve been overrunning it or not timing it well enough.
“We finally got it. And it was on one of our short corners, which was fun too. Normally those don’t pan out the way we want them to. It just nice for that to finally come together.”
The Redwings are coming together at just the right time. They roll into the postseason riding a five-game winning streak after snapping Kaneland’s six-game win streak.
“Things are starting to click, especially offensively,” Benet coach Gerard Oconer said. “The biggest difference we’ve seen over the last week or so is the girls are starting to become more decisive in their decisions.
“They’re seeing it, and they’re going. There’s no more looking for somebody else to do it.
“They draw defenders and then once we draw defenders, we can play off them. It makes it so much harder to defend us.”
There was no defending the 14th-ranked Redwings on Thursday, though there was no inkling of the coming explosion in the early going. Benet was listless at the start, though that soon changed in dramatic fashion.
Rania Fikri opened the scoring at the 31:26 mark. MacDonald’s corner kick led to a flurry in front of the goal. The Knights (12-5-0) blocked two rapid-fire shots in front, but Fikri buried the third one.
That opened the floodgates to a five-goal first half for Benet, which finished the game with 26 shots.
“The first five minutes of the game were actually a little rough, but we picked it up,” Benet defender Sadie Sterbenz said. “Over the last couple games, we’ve been working on finishing and just out of the gate doing what we know what to do, which is those awesome through-balls to super-fast people and attacking the goal nonstop.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a starter or a sub. They come in, and they can score. So it’s pretty awesome.”
Indeed, six different Redwings found the back of the net, and it could have been more if not for the play of keeper McDonald, who made 11 saves for the Knights.
The visitors answered the goal from Benet's MacDonald’s goal with a counterattack strike 1:50 later. Star striker Brigid Gannon headed home a high cross from Anna Bischoff to cut the Benet lead to 2-1. The goal snapped the Redwings four-game shutout streak.
But for the next 25 minutes, the Knights struggled to get out of their own end. Benet consistently intercepted goal kicks and clearing passes to keep the pressure on.
Richmond-bound Brinkley Douglas scored on a rebound three minutes after Gannon’s goal to restore the two-goal cushion. Anna Casmere and Vukas padded it on consecutive shots late in the period for a 5-1 halftime lead.
Gabi DiMatteo finished the scoring with a 12-yard rocket inside the near post and under the crossbar in the 61st minute.
Kaneland did generate some scoring chances, finishing with 11 shots, nearly all of them on frame. But Clark made seven saves in her 57 minutes of work and backup Kate Grubish added another in a 23-minute relief stint.
“I think we’re finally finding our groove,” MacDonald said. “We’re figuring out we need to continue to come out fast.
“The first five minutes we were a little slow. (We're) realizing that we need to put games away. If you let teams hang around, it makes it more interesting than it needs to be.”
Oconer had a slightly stronger opinion about the opening stretch.
“It was awful the first five minutes,” Oconer said. “We just came out lifeless.
“Once we got into rhythm, it was really tough to stop us. Our services on corners were much better today. It was a shame that we didn’t put more of them in.
“That’s something we’ll continue to work on, because we have girls that are good in the air. They just need to work a little bit on the timing.”
A late-season hot streak is perfect timing for the Redwings, who believe they have the goods to bring home their second state championship in four seasons. The defense is hoping to break the school single-season shutout record of 18. They have 13 so far this season.
“We’re really excited,” MacDonald said. “This is kind of a preview of what could happen for state, because this is like a sectional semifinal.
“If we can just continue going in with good energy and playing our games the way that we’re playing them, that is kind of exciting to look forward to.”
GK: Gillian McDonald
D: Madison Schrader
D: Madie Nitsche
D: Casey O’Brien
D: Alex Warrington
M: Anna Bischoff
M: Emily Kunzer
M: Erin Doucette
M: Mallory Nitsche
F: Brigid Gannon
F: Jade Schrader
GK: Shannon Clark
D: Sadie Sterbenz
D: Gabby Hedden
D: Bailey Abbott
D: Nora Hanson
M: Rania Fikri
M: Reese MacDonald
M: Keira Petrucelli
M: Annie Fitzgerald
F: Ivana Vukas
F: Abby Casmere
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Reese MacDonald, sr., MF, Benet
Benet: Rania Fikri 31:26 remaining
Benet: Reese MacDonald (Ivana Vukas) 28:35 remaining
Kaneland: Brigid Gannon (Anna Bischoff) 26:45 remaining
Benet: Brinkley Douglas 23:41 remaining
Benet: Anna Casmere 4:42 remaining
Benet: Vukas (Keira Petrucelli) 2:57 remaining
Benet: Gabi DiMatteo 19:36 remaining