DEERFIELD – Rochelle Zell’s season ended Wednesday night.
But not until after a long fight with Ida Crown in a Class A Rochelle Zell Regional semifinal game.
The two teams battled in a marathon afternoon that included a lot of delays, plenty of drama, exciting action and toughness from both teams.
Seventh-seeded Ida Crown avenged two previous losses to the Tigers this season, winning the state tournament opener via penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw through regulation and two overtimes. The Aces (8-5-1, 4-2-1) pulled out the win behind a solid effort from their backline and goalie Rena Neiger.
Third-seeded Rochelle Zell (11-6-0, 5-2-0) defeated their Chicago Prep Conference rivals 1-0 in the league match (March 28) and conference third place game (May 4). They matched their season-long goal output against Ida Crown on Wednesday, but this time it wasn’t enough.
After a game that didn’t end until nearly three hours after the scheduled start, Rochelle Zell’s players were a mixed bag of emotions. Some players were in tears. Many others enjoyed their last few moments dressed in the all-blue kit with their teammates. Smiles and laughter were abundant for most of Rochelle Zell’s players after a strong 11-win season.
Tigers Rochelle Zell junior defender Meira Lieberman was one of the key factors in the low-scoring game. She said the Tigers missed an opportunity to advance in the playoffs and called the season a success.
“I think this was a team we had already beaten twice and is a big rivalry,” Lieberman said. “Even though it stinks we lost, we played very, very hard and left it all out there. We were all aggressive. You can’t control the penalty kicks. You control the controllable. It was an amazing season, and we all learned how to play together.
“This team had a lot of success and wins. I learned how to be a team player and play as a collective. These past two months we learned a lot how to play to each other’s advantages and take all of our individual skills and mesh them into one team. I’m excited for next year.”
Rochelle Zell senior goalie Talia Scholder earned plenty of love from the crowd for keeping Ida Crown from scoring multiple goals. Five of her seven saves came in a wild second half, including a sliding save off a free kick in the 71st minute.
Scholder got a late start playing the position and turned into a stellar keeper in her third year of experience.
“I’ve grown to love goalie after being thrown into it when I was younger,” she said. “We knew today’s game was going to be a lot of pressure, because we had beaten them twice. We knew no matter what we were going to give 100 percent. It was very frustrating after that first goal, but we kept fighting. I kind of knew we were going to PKs. This is an amazing season and an amazing team.
“This game is so memorable to me. I’ve tried to build upon every game. I’ve had so much fun and am so happy that I was thrown into this position and able to pick it up.”
Junior forward Becca Berkeley is one of the team's standout players who brings optimism for another big season in 2024. The 2022 Chicagoland Soccer Little All-Stater was a whirlwind of action in the quarterfinal playoff game, blasting shot after shot toward the goal. Most missed the target, but she put a lot of pressure on the Aces’ backline and goalie.
Her last shot in regulation missed just wide left with three seconds left.
Berkeley, the co-Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match, saved the day for the Tigers with the equalizer with 4:36 left in the second overtime. Ida Crown scored the first goal of the game with 45.2 seconds left in the first 10-minute overtime. After a scramble in front of the goal line following a corner kick, sophomore midfielder Daria Lennon put Ida Crown in front.
After the game, Berkeley, a talented player with superior speed and foot skills, gathered her thoughts. She said scoring the tying goal was a memorable moment in a memorable season.
“I was so happy to score, because we wanted it so badly,” the left-footed forward said. “We put everything we had into those last couple of minutes. I’m so happy it worked out. Zoey (Weiss) was on my wing, and I knew I had a girl on me. She passed it to me square, and I just took a touch and ripped it.
“I had taken a lot of shots before, so I was so happy that it scored. I’m very honored to be a captain this year, and it will be an experience I will cherish the rest of my life. I’m so happy what we did this season.”
Rochelle Zell junior midfielder Ahava Cohen said she was proud of the team for battling all season long.
“It was a really great season, but it was great to see how hard this team played,” Cohen said. “It was really sad that this is the seniors’ last game. They were amazing captains. Everyone tried their hardest, and it showed what type of team we were. Some players were injured, like I went out because I was hurt a couple of times, but kept going back in.
“I think our team got really close throughout the year and worked on our communication to become a better team.”
The playoff opener featured lot of twists and turns, including starting late amid warm sunshine and ending in near darkness.
The large crowd, on a summer-like late afternoon-early evening, enjoyed nonstop action which included no goals in regulation.
The playoff opener for both teams took a scary turn just a few minutes before the opening kickoff, when an Ida Crown player was hit in the back of the head by a hard-hit soccer ball. An ambulance was called, leading to a nearly 30-minute delay. Thankfully, the dazed player was deemed healthy enough not to require an immediate hospital visit, but she was monitored by the ambulance staff for an extended period of time.
Ida Crown junior goalie Neiger, who shared the MVP of the Match honor, cherished the road victory over the rival Tigers. She was a strong and physical presence in the box, stopping several threats with her aggressive attitude. In total, she had six saves and came up big in the two overtimes and penalty kicks.
Neiger played so strong that it seemed to affect the Tigers on their penalty kicks. Berkeley too the first shot and went wide left. The keeper allowed just one and saved three. She stopped Michaela Halpern's try to start the fifth round to set the stage for Ida Crown’s victory.
“It was crazy on that last one, and I just knew I had to block it,” Neiger said. “I just dove and got it. I blocked three out of the last four. I had to worry about (Berkeley) all game. She’s so good, but I’m confident in myself. This is the most confident I was feeling, according to one of my teammates.
“I was running out to get the ball all game and making great punts. I let that one goal get in but just touched it. I had confidence in (PKs), because I had trained for it.”
Ida Crown junior captain Jordana Zwelling, a defender, closed out the game with her winning PK. It was her first of the season.
“My goalie saved us to get us in a position where it was tied, so I felt no pressure and just went for it,” Zwelling said. “It felt great. So I’m a defender and don’t shoot; they forced me to shoot the last one. I’m really proud of the team.”
Meanwhile, Ida Crown coach Leo Rodriguez was in dismay over receiving a red card from an official. Rodriguez repeatedly asked an official in the postgame for his reasoning behind picking up a red card, but was refused an explanation, which added to his frustration. Per IHSA rules, Rodriguez was not able to coach in Friday’s regional title game.
The win was the program’s first in the state playoffs, according to Rodriguez.
“I don’t know if that was an official red card, for that’s just crazy,” Rodriguez said. “We played well and our fortitude and effort were there. We just lost focus on Berkeley for a second, and she scored. We had some chances we weren’t capitalize on but then we did. I think our goalie is one of the best in the conference, and she definitely showed it.
“This win feels so good. It always feels good beating such a great coach and a great program. These guys are really on the up and always competitive. I love playing against them, because they are a great rival.”
Rochelle Zell coach David Martinez, who also is the school’s athletic director, credited his players for handling the variety of emotions, including the delayed start that had both teams worried about the injured player’s condition.
“It was a great game,” he said. “Ida Crown took the first lead in the overtime, but we didn’t give up and got a great goal. Unfortunately, we had limited practice time on PKs, but we put our top five up there and they did good. Credit to our goalkeeper Talia for keeping us in the game.
“It was a great season. It was a season of learning and growth. I hope the seniors move onto their futures with all the life lessons they learned. I hope our juniors and underclassmen can do something in the offseason, so when the season comes next year they are ready to build off this year. The three seniors we looked up to them, because they came with smiles and positivity and sensed the direction of where the program had to go. They kept everyone focused and made it fun.”
Ida Crown fell 6-2 to second-seeded Woodlands in the Rochelle Zell Regional championship Friday. Woodlands advances to a Richmond-Burton Sectional semifinal May 16.
GK: Rena Neiger
D: Ella Perlman
D: Rotem Lavi
D: Jordana Zwelling
D: Emily Darlow
MF: Daria Lennon
MF: Ella Kakon
MF: Ayelet Appel
MF: Talia Linzer
F: Ilana Schwartz
F: Gabi Rosenzweig
GK: Talia Scholder
D: Serena Sklar
D: Issy Wolle
D: Meira Lieberman
D: Moriya Mlotek
MF: Zoe Rudnick
MF: Abby Singer
MF: Zoey Weiss
MF: Ahava Cohen
F: Elana Cohen
F: Becca Berkeley
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Becca Berkeley, jr., F, Rochelle Zell;
Rena Neiger, jr., GK, Ida Crown
Ida Crown: Daria Lennon (Ilana Schwartz), 90’
Rochelle Zell: Becca Berkeley (Zoe Rudnick), 96’
1.Becca Berkeley --wide left
2.Elana Cohen – saved
3.Moriya Mlotek -- goal
4.Abby Singer – saved
5.Michaela Halpern – saved
1.Ella Perlman – good
2. Esther Fretzin -saved
3.Daria Lennon – wide
4. Ilana Schwartz – wide
5. Jordana Zwelling -- good