CHICAGO -- Halftime and in-game adjustments can make all the difference in sports. The team that makes more of them usually is the one that comes out on top, especially in a tight game.
The Class AA sectional semifinal between Fenwick and Elmwood Park was decided in that manner.
With the game tied 0-0 at the half, it was the Friars that made the necessary changes to come away with a 3-0 win and move on to Saturday's sectional final against Payton for the second-consecutive season.
“One thing we stressed was playing direct, more than just playing possession,” Fenwick's Susie Shank said. “During the first half, we were playing back a lot where we’d go forward but then hesitate and pass back.
“They had a very high backline. We had to figure out how we were going to get through them, because they were a very strong backline. It meant that we had to go over and go through and take the shots when we had them.”
“I like that we kept our composure, because these games as you advance become more difficult,” Fenwick manager Craig Blazer. “I thought we played a very good first half. At halftime we talked about if we could get the ball in the attacking half, we would stay positive and win the ball from whatever position they presented us.
“Our players saw that they could build some confidence in that and played within themselves. Eventually they made some good decisions that led to a good outcome.”
Knowing the strengths of their opponent, Elmwood Park actually started in a different formation than it usually does throughout the season.
Their manager, Martin Blake, was hoping to take away any advantage the Friars may have had and turned it into something positive for his squad.
“We had a game plan that was working well at first. We changed our shape, scouted and were doing the right things,” he said. “One goal and then it kind of fell apart.
“They did everything I asked. We went with the two stoppers in the back, because we knew they like to stretch it out wide, and we could have some recovery. I thought for the first 20 minutes, we confused them for a bit, but they’re really good in the back.”
After a scoreless first half, Fenwick got something going early in the second half.
Once again, Shank and Grace Kapsch worked some magic to get Fenwick on the scoreboard in the 44th minute.
“I saw an opening, because their defense was split and knew that Susie could make that pass,” Kapsch said. “I took the touch around the girl and knew it was just me and the goalie with the girl behind me. I tried to go around the goalie. I thought it was going to go wide of the goalie, but I’m glad it didn’t.”
Kapsch’s goal was her 16th on the year; the assist was Shank’s team-leading sixth.
From that point on, it was all Friars.
Fenwick earned four free kicks and three corners in the second half, while also putting four more shots on frame.
While the offense was controlled much of the possession, the defense really didn’t allow Elmwood Park to get much traction offensively. The Tigers couldn’t build much pressure with a single forward.
The Friars added a second goal on the board with just over 27 minutes remaining. Kiera Mullarkey drew a penalty in the box and then took the kick, slotting it past the Elmwood Park keeper.
“I usually just try to take a deep breath, so I don’t get into my own head,” she said. “I seem to always go to the same side, because it’s what I'm best at.”
Even though the goal gave Fenwick a cushion, a 2-0 lead is considered one of the most dangerous in sports like hockey and soccer.
It if caused the Friars any worry, it didn’t last long. Shank, who earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor, scored the final goal six-and-a-half minutes later off of a nice feed from Fiona Roche.
“Fiona passed the ball to me, and I looked up and saw there was no defender in front of me,” she said. “I don’t normally take shots outside of the box. I thought I had the open shot, and I might as well. What did I have to lose?”
With only four seniors, Elmwood Park is a young team with a bright future.
That quartet of graduates, however, will leave quite the impact on the program according to their coach.
“Some of them have been coming to my camps since they were in third or fourth grade,” Blake said. “It’s extremely sad to see them leave. When you see them grow up and become the people they’ve become, there’s nothing better.”
With the win, the Friars move on to the sectional final to face Payton for the second-consecutive season.
Unlike last season, when the team came into the playoffs as one of the top seeds, this year’s team has relished playing the outsider role while knowing it’s better than the record indicates.
“I definitely think we feel that way,” Kapsch said. “Last year we were one of the top seeds and everyone kind of feared us, but now we get to be the underdogs.
“We have no pressure on us. We go into every game now thinking we’re supposed to lose; we don’t have the record; we don’t have the seed. But we know that teams still have to fear us. But being the underdogs is what pushes us to play how we’re playing.”
“I think we took this year as one to figure out who we are as a team and what we’re best at since we lost so much from last year,” Mullarkey said. “We’ve adapted now and figured out what we’re best at and are playing well because of it now.”
GK: Leah Hyland
D: Ellie Dvorak
D: Maddie Rogowski
D: Lola Martinez
MF: Alex Ballinger
MF: Kiera Kapsch
MF: Susie Shank
MF: Mary Brunick
MF: Fiona Roche
F: Grace Kapsch
F: Kiera Mullarkey
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Susie Shank, jr., MF, Fenwick
Fenwick - Grace Kapsch (Susie Shank), 44th minute
Fenwick - Kiera Mullarkey (Penalty Kick), 53rd minute
Fenwick - Shank (Fiona Roche), 60th minute