OSWEGO – Oswego East and Plainfield North had different agendas Thursday afternoon.
On a glorious mid-summer like afternoon filled with sunshine and temperatures reaching into the low 80s, the host Wolves wanted to make a statement.
For the past two seasons, Oswego East has been the team to beat in the far southwestern suburbs. They won all 22 of their games in the Suburban Prairie Conference to win the regular-season titles. In the last campaign, that included a 3-1 win over Plainfield North. The Wolves went on to win the first regional in program history.
Oswego East entered this season without several key players from last season’s 18-3-0 team that outscored their opposition 78-17.
Plainfield North came into this spring looking to follow the Wolves’ lead – and take it further in the playoffs. Led by 11 college-bound players, the Tigers had extra motivation driving them after losing 3-2 to the eventual Class 3A state champion Metea Valley in a regional championship game last spring.
The Tigers lived up to the hype, despite the fact they lost standout senior forward Emma Duval to a season-ending injury. Even without the Tennessee recruit, the Tigers rolled over many opponents heading into the regular-season finale against the Wolves.
This luster of the conference-closing game took a hit, when the Wolves tied with Minooka on Tuesday to eliminate their chance for a third-straight league crown.
But it didn’t seem the match was for anything less than all the marbles as evidenced by physical and spirited play on the thick grass of the pitch, the loud fans in the small but filled grandstand or even from Oswego East’s public address announcer, who sparked the crowd with his loud voice. It was certainly a memorable moment when the announcer had an out-of-the-ordinary goal call following Oswego East’s lone goal Thursday.
No. This was no ordinary game, but an 80-minute thriller between two conference rivals who knew the values of bragging rights and momentum.
Plainfield North earned goals in each half to stave off a late attack by the hosts to post a 2-1 win. Katelyn Haiser and Sophie Carlos scored for the Tigers.
Plainfield North (19-1-2, 11-0-0) heads into the second-season as the no. 2 seed in the East Aurora Sectional. The Tigers begin their playoff journey against no. 15 regional host Bolingbrook in a semifinal on Tuesday at 5 p.m. The winner will play either Oswego or Waubonsie Valley on May 19 in the title game.
Oswego East coach Juan Leal said his players benefitted from playing the Tigers, who stand at no. 7 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25. Leal stayed away from talking about a moral victory.
The Wolves (11-6-2, 8-2-1) gained an extra measure of respect just by hanging a number on the scoreboard.
Before Thursday, Plainfield North had allowed just four goals for the season. Scoring against the Tigers was a positive sign, especially in a game where the teams didn’t play all of their starters for the entire game. The Tigers finished the conference season with a whopping 76-1 goal-differential.
“The first thing we’re happy about is getting a goal on them,” Leal said. “They have been stomping on teams in our conference, just barreled through teams.
“I’m proud of the way we played. I knew they were going to came out hard at us. We wanted to play tough and use this game for us to prepare for next week. We have some tough competition coming up in the playoffs. It was a good confidence booster for us, just to know that we can compete with a really good team.”
Leal said several of his players came into the match feeling tense, mainly due to the Tigers’ huge following, number of college players and high ranking. The Wolves needed almost a full half to gain their composure, then started attacking at full strength following Anya Gulbrandsen’s penalty kick goal with 19:27 left in the game. The tally shifted the complexion of the game toward the home team. The Wolves became hungry for game-tying goal. Gulbrandsen just missed one when her header off a corner kick went wide left.
“I knew we were going to be nervous about this game,” Leal said. “We had nothing to lose and experience to gain from this game. This was a good game for us to show them we are competitive and let the nerves go. I’m really proud of them.
“They are undefeated (in conference), but we wanted to show them we are competitive. I think they did a good job of relaxing. We have to just come out and make some adjustments and compete in the playoffs. This was a good game for us. Anya played great and gets triple-covered all the time and gets mauled and was tough as nails today.”
Plainfield North senior midfielder Sophie Carlos opened up the scoring in the first half, calling Thursday’s game a must-win for two reasons: to bring some momentum for the postseason; and for the seniors to finally beat the Wolves.
“It was nice to get a win after losing to them the last two years, especially since the field conditions weren’t the best,” Carlos said. “It was an adjustment playing on the grass, but we came together as a team and played good.”
Plainfield North coach Katie Monterosso echoed Carlos’ statement about knocking off the Wolves.
“Oswego East is always a great team to play against,” Monterosso said. “The last year and the year before, it has always been a great battle. We knew this was going to be a great test for us going into the playoffs.
“It was a hard-fought battle. Our mindset was the playoffs start now and let’s get tuned up and be ready to go. We treated this like a playoff game.”
Gulbrandsen said she was unaware of the importance and rarity of her goal against the stingy Tigers, who played goalies Hannah Bukowski and Jenna Bearden.
“This is our last home game for a lot of seniors,” she said. “I know we would all like to win, but I think the second half was a good performance on our part. … I feel one of our goals has been to sustain our intensity for the whole 80 minutes. I think we did a good job of that. I think the victory is probably showing that we can compete with that type of a team. We know they are a top team in the state, and know they have top talent and top to bottom that they have probably one of the best rosters in the state. They work together and have a great coach, so just knowing we can compete with that type of a team … that’s definitely a positive.”
Gulbrandsen said her penalty kick goal was a rare sight for the 2023 Wolves. She nailed her PK attempt to the left side of the goalie.
“I know they haven’t conceded a lot of goals,” she said.
“I think we’ve only had one other PK all season. We haven’t really practiced them. I don’t take them for my club team, but I practice them here because maybe I would be a PK taker here, so I do practice a few. She was kind of over-guarding the side I usually go to, so I got a little nervous. She wasn’t giving me the side I normally take my reps on.
“I hit it low. I didn’t celebrate, because there was still a lot of work to be done. I’m really happy with how everybody’s playing, and we have a really good team. The most exciting part of this is a lot of our new girls have grown and are really stepping up to this level.”
Plainfield North was affected by the thickness of the grass. It slowed down an important part of their game -- the transition. But the Tigers held off the pesky Wolves to move ahead and get started on their second set of goals.
“We achieved our first goal of going undefeated in conference and to win conference, so now the season is just getting started hopefully,” Carlos said.
Plainfield North senior midfielder Jessica Stewart said the team made a point not to have a letdown in their regular-season finale.
“We’re super excited to go undefeated and to win conference,” Stewart said. “We’ve been working toward winning conference the last three years. We are going to go hard for the playoffs and hoping to go far.
“We knew the grass (field) was coming and prepared for that. It was nice to win since we’ve had a little feud with them. It’s been a little back and forth, and been nice and close every year we’ve played them. It’s really nice to get the win.”
Oswego East senior defender Veronica Hamilton said the backline, along with standout goalie Sam McPhee, walked away from the one-goal defeat with their heads held high.
“We are really excited for the playoffs especially after holding Plainfield North to only two goals,” Hamilton said. “They are a very strong and fast team. We just dug in and pushed. We played well and had good communication in the back. We’re starting to get everything together as a team.”
Oswego East senior midfielder Morgan Hoffman said Thursday’s defeat showed the potential of the Wolves.
“We definitely worked hard and are going to hopefully do well in the playoffs,” she said. “(Plainfield North) is a really good team, but we held our ground. I’m excited. We have the momentum from this game and our past games. We’ve been working and getting better throughout the season.
“We have to give it our all every single game to extend our season and play every game like we want it and want to win.”
Wolves midfielder Emma Klosterman said her team overcame its nerves to test the visitors.
“They are a really talented team,” Klosterman said. “Going into the game, we were all little nervous because of seeing their record so far. We’ve been working hard, but we didn’t know how this game was going to go. The entire day during school we talked. We knew we had to work hard to get the results we wanted.
“We worked hard as a team and came together in this game. We’re happy. We knew they weren’t going to be ready to play on our grass field and worked to use that as our advantage. We were moving the ball. We have to continue working together and working hard as a team.”
GK: Hannah Bukowski
D: Taylor Green
D: Georgia Liapis
D: Grier Isaacson
D: Maggie Hamilton
MF: Gabriella Mattio
MF: Lauren Mrugala
MF: Sophie Carlos
MF: Jessica Stewart
F: Alex Tettah
F: Mia Davis
GK: Sam McPhee
D: Morgan Wulk
D: Emma Rosenthal
D: Veronica Hamilton
D: Asa Morales
MF: Morgan Hoffman
MF: Emma Klosterman
MF: Lana Bomstad
MF: Catie Sloan
F: Erika Smiley
F: Anya Gulbrandsen
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Anya Gulbrandsen, jr., F, Oswego East
Plainfield North: Carlos (Green), 25’
Plainfield North: Haiser (Davis), 58’
Oswego East: Gulbrandsen (penalty kick), 61’