HOFFMAN ESTATES — Ambipedal St. Charles East senior midfielder Kara Machala likes to work on scoring Olympic
goals, also called Olimpico goals, when she launches corner kicks in practice.
Friday night, in a pivotal moment in the Class 3A Conant Regional final against Schaumburg, a left-footed Machala
corner appeared to be on course to curl past Saxons senior goalkeeper Natalie Hassmann.
Top-seeded St. Charles East, ranked no. 12 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 poll, was down 1-0 to eighth-seeded Schaumburg in the 64th minute when someone jumped to interrupt the path of Machala’s ball.
But it wasn’t Hassmann.
It was Fighting Saints junior Mackenzie Loomis, one of Machala’s teammates. The defender used her forehead to redirect the bending corner kick into the net for the equalizer.
“Perfect,” the 6-foot Loomis said of Machala’s set-piece delivery.
Three minutes later, shortly after another St. Charles East set piece, the Saints scored via an own-goal and escaped with a 2-1 victory for the program’s nine-consecutive regional title and 11th in 18 years. The win earned advancement to a West Chicago Sectional semifinal match against fifth-seeded Batavia on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
Batavia (9-7-4) defeated fourth-seeded Wheaton North 3-1 in the Hoffman Estates Regional final on Saturday afternoon. Wheaton North (14-6-2) is ranked no. 14 in the final Top 25 poll of the season.
St. Charles East coach Vince DiNuzzo looked part-relieved, part-spent and part-proud after Friday night’s squeaker.
“I had some doubt,” admitted the coach, whose crew started the season 16-0-0, lost three of four near the end of the regular-season, and then improved to 19-3-0 Friday night. “Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves. Credit Schaumburg.
“We played well on set pieces, and we applied a lot of pressure in the second half. I’m proud of the team’s resilience. We enjoyed a lot of ups at the beginning of the season. We had several lows — low lows — later. But we’re all about the goals we set at the beginning of the season, one being to play our best soccer (in the postseason).”
The 2023 postseason was Schaumburg coach Greg Charvat’s 29th and last. He didn’t know exactly how many victories he had amassed at the Mid-Suburban League school, but he figured the number was “260-something.”
For 27 minutes Friday, his Saxons (8-8-1) owned a 1-0 lead versus the perennially successful Saints in chilly and
occasionally gusty conditions. Saxons junior midfielder/forward Madison Schiola broke the scoreless stalemate with a near-post goal three minutes shy of halftime. She ascended slightly to volley a right-footed, eight-yard shot past winning keeper Sidney Lazenby (two saves).
Schaumburg senior tri-captain and midfielder Emma Salatino had sent a lengthy service toward the box.
“We were looking for a dirty long-ball and hoping for a bad touch, and that’s what we got,” Charvat said.
Schiola capitalized on the opportunity for the only goal in the first 40 minutes.
St. Charles East would have a fairly strong wind at its back in the second half. Knowing that extra “teammate” would be ever-present helped Loomis, for one, stay positive throughout the 10-minute intermission.
“Being down 1-0 meant nothing to me,” Loomis said. “We played well in that first half. I was still motivated. There was no way we’d give up, because we never do.”
Loomis’ header off a corner Friday night was her fourth such goal this spring and allowed Saints Nation to finally exhale. She earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for allowing countless folks to breathe normally again.
Saints fans and players roared after the own-goal gave them the 2-1 lead. A touch by Saints freshman Tatum Smith, a reserve forward, unleashed chaos in front of Hassmann, who valiantly tried to protect the net as the ball subsequently ricocheted off body parts more than a few times.
Moments later, the ball rebounded off a Saxon’s back and past Hassmann (seven saves) for what turned out to be the clincher.
The St. Charles East win upped the program’s regional-championship total to 27.
“We battled,” Charvat said. “We stuck to the game plan — contain St. Charles East — in the first half. Second half, we kind of ran out of gas. We just didn’t have enough. We played as well as we could have against a team that kept pushing forward in the second half. Smart move, with the wind, by St. Charles East.
“We earned some respect as an eight seed.”
Schaumburg backs Fernanda Sanchez, Sam Iller and Emily Carlos deserve kudos for blanking dangerous and savvy Saints senior forward Grace Williams. But Williams exhausted the game defenders, along with a midfielder or three, with her relentlessness, speed, ball control and shots.
Players along the sideline nearly matched Williams’ vitality.
Neither the bench players from St. Charles East nor the
reserves from Schaumburg sat at any point in Friday’s regional final, and all cheered loudly for all kinds of feet feats, from near goals to clears to picturesque passes.
“We never sit at any game,” DiNuzzo said.
“Standing always brings energy,” Machala added.
First-year St. Charles East assistant coach and 1994 Fremd graduate Matt Polovin, who coaches boys soccer at
Streamwood, guided the Sabres to a program-best fourth-place finish at the 2014 Class 3A state tournament. Among his assistants then was St. Charles girls coach and former Bartlett standout goalkeeper DiNuzzo, who served as Polovin’s goalkeepers coach in ’14. DiNuzzo then coached his alma mater’s boys team to a program-best fourth place finish at the Class 3A state tourney in 2015. … Schaumburg coach Charvat has had a passion for gardening for decades. He plans to turn his thumb greener in retirement. Charvat was named MSL Coach of the Year in 1998, when his Saxons finished with an 18-4-1 record. “I’m going to miss coaching,” he said. … Schaumburg’s Carlos, Brisa Baldwin (senior midfielder) and Delanie Dietz (senior midfielder) were named to the all-MSL team earlier this month. … St. Charles East’s Loomis, Machala, Williams, Mia Raschke (senior forward), Ella Stehman (senior forward) and Alli Saviano (junior midfielder) made Chicagoland Soccer’s midseason Watch List, which was released on April 21.
GK Natalie Hassmann
D Fernanda Sanchez
D Sam Iller
D Emily Carlos
MF Brisa Baldwin
MF Sophia Snow
MF Jennifer Luo
MF Emma Salatino
MF Mya Rubio
F Caroline Chalberg
F Madison Schiola
St. Charles East
GK Sidney Lazenby
D Lauren Silvestri
D Mackenzie Loomis
D Amanda Stepien
MF Georggia Desario
MF Alli Saviano
MF Kara Machala
MF Tia Bernstein
F Mia Raschke
F Grace Williams
F Ella Stehman
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Mackenzie Loomis, jr., D, St. Charles East
Schaumburg — Schiola (Salatino), 37’
St. Charles East — Loomis (Machala), 64’
St. Charles East — own goal, 67’