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Freshman connection leads Benet past ND (Peoria), back to Final 4

By Steve Stein, 05/31/23, 6:30PM CDT


Fitzgerald goal in 1st OT the difference in 1-0 win

WASHINGTON, (ILL.) -- It was no surprise that Benet and Notre Dame (Peoria) headed into overtime Tuesday in a scoreless tie.

After all, the sides had 34 shutouts, just 21 goals-allowed between them in 48 combined games and two Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association all-state keepers in Addie Jennetten, of Notre Dame, and Shannon Clark, of Benet, going into the Class AA Washington Supersectional at Babcook Field.

With a spot in the state semifinals on the line, Benet freshmen Ivana Vukas and Annie Fitzgerald made sure it was the Nazareth Sectional top-seeded Redwings who moved on instead of the Dunlap Sub-sectional A no. 1 seed.

With 6:05 to go in the first of two 10-minute overtime periods, Vukas flicked on a cross from Anna Casmere to an open Fitzgerald, who settled the one-hop ball as a Notre Dame defender closed in.

From outside the near post, Fitzgerald quickly and calmly sent a perfect shot from 14 yards into the left side of the net. It looped over the outstretched hand of Jennetten before dipping under the bar. Benet went on to win the third supersectional in school history by a 1-0 score.

"That was quite something for a freshman to shoot the ball on frame in that spot of the net at that moment," said Benet coach Gerard Oconer. "We have a lot of players who can score. We never know who it will be on a given day. It's an offense by committee."

Fitzgerald said she saw Casmere make a run on the wing with the ball and she knew what she had to do.

"Get myself in front of the net and beat a defender to the ball if it came to me," she said. "I was so excited when my shot went in and gave my team the goal we needed."

Jennetten said she didn't get a good look at Fitzgerald's shot.

"And it was tough to read," she said through tears.

Notre Dame (18-4-2), which was ranked seventh in the final Chicagoland Soccer Illinois 10 poll, came into the game with 18 shutouts. Each one of the Irish's wins was a clean-sheet. Fitzgerald's goal, her seventh of the season, was only the ninth goal allowed by Notre Dame and Jennetten this season.

At the other end of the turf field at Washington was Benet’s Clark, who was hoarse after the game after a long night of directing and encouraging her teammates. She made six saves.

"I love a game like that, being zoned in and part of it. High intensity and high pressure," she said. "I don't want to be back there just watching. I want to be involved. We play better when that happens."

Clark said she was happy to see Fitzgerald's goal hit the back of the net.

"That took some pressure off my shoulders. I was relieved," she said. "I knew then we probably wouldn't have to go to penalty kicks. I don't like deciding a game on PKs. That sometimes can take a win away from a team that deserves a win, and we deserved to win this game."

Clark can't say enough about the defenders in front of her. With their help, Benet and Clark has given up just 13 goals this season and the Redwings have 16 shutouts against tough competition.

"Best defense I've ever had in front of me," Clark said. "Everybody knows what to do. We're all on the same page."

Benet, which was the top-ranked Class AA team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 at no. 15, earned the chance to play for a state championship for the third time in four years.

The Redwings took home the big trophy in 2019 with a 2-1 win over Wauconda. They settled for runnerup honors last year, losing 1-0 to Triad, which won its second-straight title.

Triad won't stand in the way this season. The Knights lost 5-0 Tuesday to supersectional host Glenwood.

"The game (Tuesday) reminded me a lot of last year's supersectional, when we beat Dunlap 1-0 on a goal in the last 15 minutes," Oconer said. "We scored a little later this time.

"I knew the chances would be hard to come by (Tuesday). Still, Notre Dame had a couple of point-blank shots, and we hit the crossbar and post. It came down to one moment, and we took advantage of it."

It was a tough loss for Notre Dame. Players and coaches were emotional after the game.

The Irish haven't been to the state finals since 2015 despite reaching the supersectionals five times in Ben Ralph's six years as coach. They have a third place and two fourth place state trophies from 10 finals trips.

"The game came down to an unlucky bounce," Ralph said. "That's soccer. Sometimes soccer isn't fair and life isn't fair. But the sun will be shining tomorrow. We didn't lose because of a lack of effort. We gave it everything we had."

The first half was evenly played, although Benet had the best chance as Casmere sent a shot off the crossbar in the 36th minute.

The Redwings took control in the second half.

They started wearing down the Notre Dame defense in a game with temperatures in the low 90's at the start and the high 80's as the sun set. That necessitated a water break during each half of regulation time.

The Irish crossed midfield into the Benet side of the field only three times in the first 20 minutes of the second half.

Notre Dame's best chance to score came with two minutes left in regulation when leading-scorer Claire Girard boomed a shot just over the crossbar.

"We didn't change anything after halftime. We just showed the depth in our roster," Oconer said. "We wear down a lot of Class AA teams with our depth."

In the end, Benet looked and played like a team with 17 returning players, eight-of-11 starters back and tons of playoff experience.

Benet and Notre Dame had never met previously in the postseason. They played a regular-season game at Notre Dame early in the 2019 season that Benet won on a diving header with about 30 seconds left.

Benet (20-4-0) advances to meet Crystal Lake Central (18-3-0), which is ranked no. 1 in Chicagoland Soccer’s Class AA Super 7 poll. The match is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff Friday at North Central College in Naperville.

Starting lineups

GK: Shannon Clark
D: Sadie Sterbenz
D: Gabby Hedden
D. Bailey Abbott
D: Nora Hanson
MF: Rania Fikri
MF: Reese MacDonald
MF: Annie Fitzgerald
F: Keira Petrucelli
F: Ivana Vukas
F: Anna Casmere

Notre Dame (Peoria)
GK: Addie Jennetten
D: Ellen Dahlquest
D: Alli Stickelmaier
D: Meredith Oliver
D: Jane Geers
MF: Maddie Stickelmaier
MF: Ally Bare
MF: Claire Girard
MF: Abigail Chaddick
F: Parker Miller
F: Mya Wardle

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Annie Fitzgerald, fr., MF, Benet

Scoring summary

First half
No scoring

Second half
No scoring

First overtime
Benet: Annie Fitzgerald (Ivana Vukas), 84th minute

Second overtime
No scoring