NORTHBROOK -- Six minutes of scoring brilliance, then an intense fight to the finish gave Fremd a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Stevenson to advance into the Glenbrook North Sectional final.
Freshman Gwen Zimmerman's double late in the first half helped the Vikings (17-3-1) escape from William Lutz Stadium on a night that the top seed of the Glenbrook North Sectional turned in a less-than-sparkling effort against a motivated Stevenson club.
"We did not play very well," admitted Fremd junior Gemma Gillespie, who had watched her senior teammates race off from the game back to Palatine to take part in graduation ceremonies.
"Mentally and physically we just were not ready," added Zimmerman, whose goal-scoring heroics led to her sharing the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor with Patriots senior Hailey Popkey, who will move back to Canada to attend Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. "Stevenson was, so we were lucky not to concede anything during that first 20 minutes when they were all over us."
"We came ready to play tonight,” said Popkey, who ran the show in the middle of the park with pace, purpose and passion. “We were the better team in the first half. After Ellie (Egeland) scored our first goal midway through the second half we just didn't have enough to get one more."
Fifth-seeded Stevenson (14-6-1), the runnerup to Libertyville in the North Suburban Conference race, started off incisively and aggressively. The Patriots produced almost immediate results when Egeland (17 goals) unloaded a well struck one-timer that forced Fremd’s first half keeper Emily Gordon into a save.
The Vikings inability to hold the midfield, win balls and find feet kept the play tilted in the direction of Gordon and her backline protectors Maddie McMillan, Hanah Rosen, Bella Scesniak and Gillespie. Kaitlyn Roti was forced to be a screen in front of her backline as the Vikings no. 6.
"We came out real flat and were playing without any confidence,” said assistant Kelsie Strauch, who stepped in for interview duty after manager Steve Keller bolted off to the graduation ceremony. “(Stevenson) took full advantage of our inability to win balls and pressure, which made for a real-nervous time for us during the first 20-25 minutes."
Stevenson’s midfield crew of Popkey, Leah Stodola and Madison Olsen led the way. The trio and the Patriots backline provided quality service in their frequent attempts to target Egeland, who possesses a lethal left-foot capable of going on frame from distance.
"No. 11 (Egeland) gave us a lot of trouble,” said Strauch. “When they lined her up on the right side, she was able to carry into the middle and shoot with that strong left leg, which led to their only goal tonight."
Stevenson reserve keeper Reese Yoo filled in admirably for senior Mandy Meliker, who badly injured her finger during training 24 hours earlier.
"We're so proud of (Reese). She came in and did a great job for us tonight," said Patriots assistant Jennifer Merlitti.
While Yoo had an easy time of it early in the match, her counterpart on the other end of the park was kept busy for the fi+ull 40 minutes. Gordon saved four quality attempts and watched another three go just off target.
"We did a lot of defending in that first half," said Gillespie.
Egeland, through Stodola and Sami An, went wide in the 13th minute before the all-state candidate, already committed to play at Maryland in the fall of 2024, outraced two Vikings to the endline.
Once there, Egeland played a marvelous ball to the back post but saw it roll harmlessly away without a single white shirt in position to strike.
Fremd came to life for a brief moment, thanks in part to a lovely cross-field ball from Lia DiGirolamo to Zimmerman, who created a corner. But Stevenson central defender Hailey Livesay and her mates continued to keep the team’s start unmarred.
"We had so much of the play in the first half,” said Livesay. “We were doing a great job winning the 50/50 balls to help us control most of the play. I feel if we had scored first instead of them, the game stays in our favor the rest of the way."
Just prior to the half hour, Fremd’s manager brought Zimmerman back from her spot up-top and deployed the speedy freshman in a more wide position in the middle. At the same time, Patriots manager Jay Bulev, who did well in keeping a constant stream of fresh legs to combat the sunny, warm conditions, brought his scoring ace Egeland off to rest.
Two minutes after Egeland went out, Fremd freshman Lily Mayer forced Livesay to jump into a tackle at the top of the box just before Zimmerman sent an effort on frame.
Bulev brought four from his first 11 back on after a brief respite, including Egeland, Stodola, and forward Madi Kennedy at 30 minutes. At that juncture, the Fremd attack began running with more purpose and industry, after staying in neutral previously.
"Gwen really gets our attack going. She has a way to create with and without the ball, and can be so dangerous," Gillespie said of her teammate with the nonstop motor and desire.
After a deep throw by Bella Scesniak, Stevenson’s inability to clear the area created a scrum near the spot. After three half-chances, the ball spilled free to the opportunistic Zimmerman who poked in a close-range effort at 33 minutes.
Zimmerman doubled the Vikings advantage five minutes later when, with a touch of superb technical play, she backed up before moving forward to meet an inch-perfect inward-swinging corner from Ava Catherall at the back post.
Elevating above the Patriots, Zimmerman put her header out of reach of Yoo, who had no chance on the Vikings 38th-minute tally.
"Ava gave me a great ball," said Zimmerman. “I knew if I dropped out and back, then came to the ball (and) stayed composed I would have the chance to put another one in for us before the half."
"Just a huge goal for us right before the half," added Gillespie. "We started to play a little better right before Gwen got us those two goals, but it really didn't carry over into the second half like it should have."
Right after the break, Stevenson's Stodola and Egeland tested Fremd second half keeper Riley Goettsche.
Following that, Stevenson allowed Kaitlyn Roti to tee-up one up from 30 yards, but the senior’s effort went wide.
Then Egeland surprised Fremd against the run of play. The junior carried from the right side toward the center of the park. From there she unloaded an unstoppable 40-yard, left-footed missile into the back of the net to bring the Patriots back in the game with 20 minutes remaining.
"I really thought Ellie's goal gave us so much energy and momentum, but we just could not find that second goal. Even though we put everything into it," said Popkey.
Zimmerman said: "We had to really fight hard after their goal to protect our lead."
While the play became more frenetic after the Egeland strike, it also saw more end-to-end countering as each side looked to catch the other lacking numbers.
There were plenty of deep throws because of the wide-open play, and a handful of free kicks and corners, however nothing of quality on-frame came from either side as the clock drew closer to time.
"It's not an excuse, but the heat, pace and energy in the second half took a lot out of both teams.” Gillespie said. “It showed at times, but I felt we did what we had to in order to get the result we needed. We'll have to be much better on Friday.”
"It was a hard-fought 80 minutes,” began Strauch. “It wasn't our best overall effort. But when you get this far into the playoffs, everyone brings their best against the no. 1 seed. That's something we have to be aware of from here on out.
"The ball was like a ping-pong ball at times. We held up pretty well, especially our backline, which has come a long way this year and continues to play at a high level each game."
Next up for the Vikings will be the no. 2 seed from Libertyville. The Wildcats (15-2-2) went deep into the Northbrook night to defeat Hersey 4-3 on an overtime goal from Ellie Rebmann in the 86th minute.
G- Reese Yoo
D- Bri Welter
D- Anabelle Egeland
D- Hailey Livesay
D- Alexa Karagrannis
M- Madison Olsen
M- Haylie Popkey
M- Leah Stodola
F- Ellie Egeland
F- Madi Kennedy
F- Sami Ha
G- Emily Gordon
D- Hanah Rosen
D- Bella Scesniak
D- Gemma Gillespie
D- Maddie McMillan
M- Lily Mayer
M- Kaitlyn Roti
M- Cami Tofilon
M- Leah Saxe
F- Ava Catherall
F- Gwen Zimmerman
F- Lily Mayer
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Hailey Popkey, sr., MF, Stevenson; Gwen Zimmerman, fr., F, Fremd
Officials: Doug Newfeldt (referee); Jay Weiss (AR1); Rommel Benjamin (AR2)
Fremd: Zimmerman (Scensiak), 33'
Fremd: Zimmerman (Catherall), 38'
Stevenson: E. Egeland (U/A), 60'