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Fenwick’s fast start sacks Payton, earns 2nd-straight sectional title

By Michael Wojtychiw, 05/28/23, 2:45PM CDT


Friars score 3 goals in opening 6 minutes, overpower Grizzlies 4-1

CHICAGO -- There are fast starts to games and then there are starts like the one in the Fenwick-Payton sectional final on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at De La Salle. 

The flurry of scoring was nothing like Fenwick forwards Grace Kapsch and Kiera Mullarkey, Fenwick manager Craig Blazer or Payton manager Paul Escobar had seen.

Just after the opening whistle, , Kapsch went down the left side of the field, inside the hashes and fired a perfect cross to the center of the box right in front of the goal. Waiting there was Mullarkey, who put the ball away for the quick opening goal a mere 26 seconds into the game.

“Crossing it back into the box was definitely the intent,” Kapsch said. “We practice that in our warmups every time. It’s the last thing we practice, getting those crosses in and finishing.

"I knew that Kiera was going to be there. It was wide open and I knew she was going to finish.”

Not to be outdone, Payton’s Ajla Gradjan tied the game a minute and a half later.

At that point, one would have thought that the scoring would have to subside. Right?

The Friars, however, had other things on their mind. Like Susie Shank, who scored in the fourth minute. She has scored in all three of the team’s playoff contests (not counting the regional opener, which was a forfeit victory). 

Mullarkey and Kapsch weren’t done either. 

The two combined again for a near-mirror image of their first goal. It came a little over two minutes after Shank’s goal. 

“Getting the goals were really important, because it got our energy up and helped us realize we were in the game quickly,” Mullarkey said. 

That meant that the two teams combined for four goals in the first 6:10. Many fans had yet to take their seats.

“The quick goals really helped us set the tone for the game,” Kapsch said. “There was no turning back after that.”

“We brought so much energy at the beginning of the game,” Fenwick manager Craig Blazer said. “To be up 4-1 at halftime, we were so happy. On the day, we showed a lot of execution in the final third and inside the 18. Then we turned around and in the back Leah Hyland played a great game in goal.”

“I was telling the girls I’d never seen that before,” Payton manager Paul Escobar said. “We were just telling the girls at halftime that the first half was over, we just needed to win the second half.

“It’s really hard to come back when you’re down that big really quick. A lot of it came down to the simple things though. We weren’t really doing them, and they took advantage of that.”  

The Grizzlies almost made it 3-2 a couple minutes after Mullarkey’s second goal, but an offsides call nullified the goal. Fenwick held steady for a 4-1 win in a rematch of last year’s sectional final that Fenwick won 1-0.

“Losing all the seniors from last year, I think we really had something to prove, and we played really well today, I’m proud of the team,” Kapsch said. 

Kapsch added a goal of her own five minutes before halftime. She took a pass from sophomore Alex Ballinger to round out the scoring.

Payton had several scoring opportunities in the second half. Gradjan had a nice early chance from the left side, but Fenwick keeper Leah Hyland made one of her five saves in the half on the shot.

Felicity Cole and Isabella Katz were also stopped in the latter stages of the match as the Grizzlies tried to claw themselves back into the game.

This year’s senior class helped lead Payton to three-consecutive trips to the sectional final, including a sectional title two years ago.

Once the sting of the loss dissipates, Escobar and the Payton fans should be excited for next year’s squad. The Grizzlies return a nice nucleus of players led by Gradjan, Cole, Cate Cupps, Norah Cervenka and keeper Chloe Guzik.

“This year’s senior class was great,” Escobar said. “They’re great role models for the younger girls, have been great for the program, work hard, always stayed positive. They’re what you ask for when you have a senior class. I’ve been fortunate to always have great senior classes that leave legacies.

“It’s always exciting knowing we have a good group coming back. I just wish we could have gone a little further this year, because the experience would have been valuable for them. But if there’s a positive out of this, I’m sure it’s that they don’t want to feel this three years in a row -- because we’ve lost to Fenwick now two years in a row in the sectional final.”

The Friars now move on to Tuesday’s De La Salle Supersectional in yet another rematch from last season when they face the host Meteors. The two also faced off earlier this year; it ended in a 1-1 tie.

“We just have to take how we played today to then,” Kapsch said. “We played them earlier this season, and it was a very physical game. We were missing Susie (Shank). I think coming into Tuesday, we just need to play like we did, and we’ve got it.”

“It’s starting to come together now,” Blazer said. “Even our last two training sessions, we leave the training sessions going ‘Wow, that was good, we needed that.’ Then they’re executing that on the field.

“We just have to keep playing the same way. We’re still a work in progress, but playing our best soccer right now. We’re a better two-way team now than we were then” 

Starting lineups

GK: Chloe Guzik
D: Kate Feurer
D: Cate Cupps
MF: Violeta Nevarez
MF: Norah Cervenka
MF: Katerina Lazos
MF: Thalia Witkovsky
F: Isabella Katz
F: Felicity Cole
F: Ajla Gradjan
F: Zara Lee

GK: Leah Hyland
D: Ellie Dvorak
D: Maddie Rogowski
D: Lola Martinez
D: Emma Maria Basset
MF: Susie Shank
MF: Fiona Roche
MF: Kiera Kapsch
MF: Mary Brunick
F: Grace Kapsch
F: Kiera Mullarkey 

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Grace Kapsch, jr., MF, Fenwick

Scoring summary

First half
Fenwick - Keira Mullarkey (Grace Kapsch), first minute
Payton - Ajla Gradjan, second minute
Fenwick - Susie Shank (Mary Brunick), fourth minute
Fenwick - Mullarkey (Kapsch), seventh minute
Fenwick - Kapsch (Alex Ballinger), 35th minute

Second half
No scoring