PALATINE -- Ava Catherall and Gwen Zimmerman scored goals within the first 15 minutes to stifle a youthful club from Warren and give top-seeded Fremd the crown in its own regional crown Friday night at Hildebrandt Field.
Next up for the Vikings (16-3-1) will be the 4 p.m. semifinal May 23 against fifth-seed Stevenson (13-5-1), which ended sectional host Glenbrook North’s playoff dreams with a PK win (0-0 regulation, 2 OT) in the Palatine Regional title match.
Fremd did the work from the opening horn Friday.
"I was really happy with the overall performance tonight from the girls," said Vikings manager Steve Keller. “There was a lot of fight and purpose for 80 minutes. That's what we'll continue to need as we go forward.”
It was a disciplined, comprehensive effort on behalf of the home side that sent off an exuberant and seventh-seeded Blue Devils (10-5-3) club that entered the contest with four wins in their last five matches, three of which were clean-sheets.
"We've come a long way this season after starting out dealing with injuries, all sorts of setbacks here and there, plus a roster that is just filled with so many who have never played at the varsity level," began Blue Devils senior captain Paige Hogberg, who turned in a magnificent 80 minutes as the central defender alongside junior Mia Gloria.
"We've been playing well of late, but Fremd came out so strong with their pressure and physical play. As a young team, we had some trouble with (that) in the first half, but I was real proud of how we played in the second half."
"Paige was just great out there for us tonight," said proud Blue Devils manager Ryan McCabe. “She has been a terrific leader and role model for this team, especially our younger players. They have come on nicely late in the season as they have grown more comfortable in their play.”
Hogberg was the only senior in McCabe’s first 11. He started six sophomores, who were led by Addison Stanciak, Arly Melchor and Maya Martinek. The trio drew the notice of the opposing manager.
"Ryan has a really young, and talented group of players,” Keller said. “I was impressed with the way no. 8 (Stanciak), no. 12 (Melchor) and no. 18 (Martinek) played all night. I would not be surprised to see a very talented, and solid team next year with the core of players he has coming back."
Fremd burst into life from the opening whistle of this regional final with a pair of deep throws. A nicely played bit of combination play that went through Lily Mayer and Leah Saxe found leading scorer Gwen Zimmerman, who returned from her appearance in the 4 X 200 relay at the girls state track meet preliminaries at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., just after kickoff.
Hogberg's aggressive tackle on Zimmerman stopped the freshmen from getting in on Blue Devils keeper Emma Megerle in the 7th minute, but it was a harbinger of things to come as the pace and pure speed from Zimmerman helped pry open the visitors in their own end on several occasions.
"No. 24 (Zimmerman) can flat out run with and without the ball," said McCabe. “Once she was in the game, she gave us some problems until we could adjust a little at the break.”
Zimmerman broke free up the right side before playing a lovely ball across to an unmarked Catherall. Her neat finish with a one-timer turned out to be the game-winner in the ninth minute.
"Gwen made things happen right away when she came into the game," said Catherall, who along with the Hogberg shared Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honors. “The cross she gave me was just amazing and made it a lot easier for me to score our first goal.”
Warren responded quickly to the Catherall opener. A Stanciak snap-shot forced keeper Emily Gordon into action. She followed with a much easier save on an attempt from Anjelica Amezquita, who ventured out of the back to put one on frame after teammates Martinek and Sophia Ogren initiated the build-up.
However, the pressure that Fremd brought from all over, and especially in the middle of the park, led to the final goal of the match in the 13th minute.
That's when a Warren nerve-induced mix-up in its own end allowed Fremd’s Kaitlyn Roti and Saxe to keep the ball in a dangerous position. It wound up on the foot of Zimmerman, whose on-the-floor smash from 22 yards through a crowd gave Megerle no chance.
"When you now chasing two goals against a team that did not let up on the pressure, it put a lot on the girls," said McCabe. “They fought hard and did well to keep it 2-0 heading into the half.”
Fremd worked hard to increase its lead before the halftime horn.
Roti had a pair of half-chances on frame. Catherall watched her close-range effort stopped cold by Megerle in the 22nd minute, and a trio of corners, free kicks and deep throws kept the visitors from playing out of their own end for most of the final 20 minutes of the first period.
The play of Roti at the six and Hogberg, from the standpoint of aerial and on-the-floor wins, spoke to how important each player was to the overall scheme of their respective teams.
During the first 40 minutes, Roti won six in the air, and another five on tackles. Hogberg collected four wins in the air and another half-dozen tackle victories.
"Again, Paige means so much to us in the back, and it's her play that allows Maya (Martinek) to play the six for us aggressively and jumping into the attack when the opportunity arises," said McCabe.
Warren came out full of vim and vigor after the break. Stanciak tested keeper Riley Goettsche, who came on for Emily Gordon in the second half.
Just before Stanciak’s attempt, she sent Kate Mondejar through. If not for an alert and sharp tackle from Maddie McMillan, the freshman may have found her way in on Goettsche.
McMillan came off with an ankle injury in the 24th minute but eight minutes later rejoined Vikings defenders Gemma Gillespie, Hannah Rosen, Bella Scesniak and Lia DiGirolamo in a partnership that concedes few opportunities to opponents.
"Our backline continues to work hard in training," said McMillan. “We've come a long way this season to become a real solid group in the back for us after (Keller) moved some of us around earlier to find a combination that would be best for all of us and the team.”
While Warren enjoyed the quicker start to the second period, the Vikings stormed back to have most of the play just after the hour and right up until the final whistle.
Catherall landed one on the roof of the Blue Devils net with her short-range effort, Lily Mayer went just over the bar a few moments later before a Catherall-Zimmerman one-two led to a second-straight Fremd corner kick.
In the midst of the activity, Warren’s Gloria made three solid tackles to keep the Vikings attack from gaining steam.
"I liked the way that we continued to attack, create and finish out the game strong with a lot of energy and effort," said Keller.
With the Vikings in rhythm, they produced a handful of quality chances at Megerle, who did well when called upon. She stopped two shots from Catherall, a try from Zimmerman and then came off her line to win a nice 50/50 challenge against Zimmerman on a deep ball sent in from Scesniak.
Warren worked hard to win back some of the play, led by Stanciak, Ogren, Melchor and Martinek.
"We finished strong against a very good opponent, and that's a great way to end the game and season for us," began McCabe.
"We had our troubles holding the ball tonight. A lot of that was because of the pressure that Fremd brings right from the start. But I was very proud of the effort the girls gave. Moving forward, this team should produce results for us next year."
"This was a great team to be around," said Hogberg. “I have enjoyed every minute being a part of the Warren program, especially with coach McCabe, and coach (Jason) Ahonen, who have done a great job of bringing us all together.
"I've loved the style of play (McCabe) has brought to us. For me, he has made me a better person just knowing and being around him."
Fremd is hard at work preparing for sectional play.
"Our last 15-20 minutes was very good on both sides of the ball, so we need to come out on Tuesday and play the same way, " said Catherall.
McMillan added: "I feel like we have to come out every game to prove why we are the no. 1 seed. I think it makes all of us work that much harder when we train. Tonight I think we showed really well that we're the top seed in our sectional."
G- Emma Megerle
D- Anjelica Amezquita
D- Paige Hogberg
D- Mia Gloria
D- Ava Denapoli
M- Sophia Ogren
M- Arly Melchor
M- Kate Mondejar
M- Maya Martinek
F- Reese Mertens
F- Addison Stanciak
G- Emily Gordon
D- Hanah Rosen
D- Bella Scesniak
D- Gemma Gillespie
D- Maddie McMillan
M- Kaitlyn Roti
M- Lia DiGirolamo
M- Leah Saxe
M- Cami Tofilon
F- Lily Mayer
F- Ava Catherall
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Ava Catherall, jr., F, Fremd; Paige Hogberg, sr., D, Warren
Referee: Mike Schmickely
Fremd: Catherall (Zimmerman) 9'
Fremd: Zimmerman (Saxe) 13'