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Game story: St. Charles East finds its offense in win over Oak Park and River Forest

By Jared Birchfield, 04/01/24, 1:00PM CDT


Fighting Saints surpass scoring in previous 4 games with 5-1 victory

ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East’s struggling offense had a breakout match against Oak Park and River Forest on Saturday. The Fighting Saints, who had only scored a total of nine times going into their eighth contest of the season, racked up a quintet of goals in an impressive 5-1 win over the Huskies.

In addition to scoring during run of play, St. Charles East (5-1-2) capitalized on a penalty kick and a free kick.

Oak Park and River Forest (2-4-0) made the most of a set piece and denied the Fighting Saints their fifth shutout of the 2024 campaign.

“It was nice to kind of get a cushion and some separation with our goal-scoring. It was also nice to score on a set piece that was practiced in training a bunch of times,” St. Charles East coach Vince DiNuzzo said. “We were much better in the final third than we have been.”

The offensive output was also a real boost to the team’s confidence according to Sophia Wollenberg, who scored twice.

“It feels good. We really needed this,” said the freshman. “It’s going to help us going forward.”

Lilli Margewich drew a foul inside the penalty box to set up St. Charles East’s first goal in the 23rd minute. Wollenberg’s ensuing penalty kick went to the right of Oak Park and River Forest goalkeeper Jackie Bollinger and into the back of the net.

Huskies coach Lauren Zallis thought the PK definitely swung the match’s momentum toward the host team.

“I think it’s really unfortunate when the first goal that gets scored on you is a PK,” the coach said. “Because the mentality of winning the possession in the field and then having a goal put in on you is a tough one to bounce back from.”

DiNuzzo was pleased with Margewich’s overall play.

“She was really good today as a wingback for us. She created the penalty on the first goal. She was effective on the ball. She simplified some things,” said the Fighting Saints manager. “She’s growing and getting more confident. She was kind of the unsung hero today.”

Four minutes after the PK, Georggia Desario doubled St. Charles East’s lead with her first goal of the season. The strike from 20 yards came after a pass from Alli Saviano.

“We were able to get them off guard when we were coming out of the back. One of our 6s was able to play the ball to me,” said Saviano, a Southeast Missouri signee. “I was able to take a touch, turn and then play straight to George, who had an open shot.”

A free kick with 16:59 left until the half ended gave the Fighting Saint’s their third score. Makenzie Loomis, an Eastern Michigan commit, lined up at a near side hash mark from 22 yards and started the restart. Instead of sending it toward the goal, the senior tapped the ball to her left to Saviano, who smashed it home. 

Saviano’s goal, her fifth of the season, and two assists earned her Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the match honors.

“She was dangerous on the ball in the attacking half, and she scored,” DiNuzzo said. “Plus, she created some goals. She was relentless.”

Oak Park and River Forest’s best scoring opportunity of the first half came in the 14th minute. Junior forward Malie Cassel skyed a ball from 25 yards, but the bid was caught by St. Charles East keeper Sidney Lazenby.

“I think (St. Charles East) had intensity and were lethal in the final third,” Zallis said. “In the first half they had three shots on goal and three goals. They were really taking the opportunities and making them into something, creating goals. We failed to do that in the first half.”

Wollenberg earned a brace 10 minutes into the second half with a goal from just outside the goal mouth.

“I combined with Alli down the sideline and just placed it far post,” Wollenberg said of her fifth strike of the season.

A free kick in the 71st minute began the end of Oak Park and River Forest’s scoreless run. Abby Cockerill’s far sideline send from 30-yards out bounced into the penalty box, where Genevieve Simkowski took control of the ball. The junior knocked it past St. Charles East freshman keeper Mia Olenek, who replaced Lazenby between the pipes at the start of the second half. 

With the tally, Simkowski raised her goal total for the season to three.

Zallis thought St. Charles East’s lead impacted her Huskies’ play.

“I think we overall had a better first half,” the Huskies coach said. “In the second half, in my mind, we slowed down. I think we were a little in our heads about what the score was, and the monster we were facing, so to speak.”

Halftime changes to the Fighting Saints’ strategy also frustrated Oak Park and River Forest’s attack.

“The midfield was much better in the second half,” DiNuzzo said. “In the first half we were pressing with an additional midfielder along with our forward. It created a lot of space for them in the midfield, so they had a little bit more of the ball than we would have liked. We changed a couple of things in terms of defensive roles in the press, and it kind of limited their ability to stay on the ball and keep possession.”

Tatum Smith finished St. Charles East scoring with 1:16 left to play. The sophomore successfully battled an Oak Park and River Forest defender for the ball in the near corner, dribbled the ball to just outside the near post and knocked it in.

“The defender was shielding the ball. I was just trying to get the ball from out and underneath her,” Smith said about her first goal of 2024 campaign. “I was able to turn her. I saw the goalie near-post, and I was like why not just try to take a shot. It luckily curved in with the wind.”

A less hectic match schedule helped St. Charles East hone its skills, according to DiNuzzo. After playing seven matches in 15 days, the Fight Saints had three days to prepare for Oak Park and River Forest.

“I think we’re getting better with time,” he said. “We’re able to train a little bit more with less games on the schedule during this time. We’re able to practice and kind of touch on the things that we were struggling with. Also, I think we’re getting confidence as we get more varsity minutes under our belts.”

Zallis said the contest was a good team-effort and singled out the play of junior Addison Bliss.

“I think this is the best team soccer we’ve played,” said the Oak Park and River Forest coach. “I would say Addison did a great job for us holding the line in the back. And when she was asked to play a more forward winger role, she created a lot of our best opportunities on the outside.”

Starting lineups

Oak Park and River Forest
GK: Jackie Bollinger
D: Keira Kleidon
D: Giovanna Aguilar-Ripley
D: Annie Whitmore
MF: Abby Cockerill
MF: Addison Bliss
MF: Evie Derhammer
MF: Maddy Vizzone
MF: Lilly Wright
F: Malie Cassel
F: Paulina Simkowski

St. Charles East
GK: Sidney Lazenby
D: Presley Kannaka
D: Mackenzie Loomis
D: Abbey Petrick
D: Averie Foulkes
MF: Georggia Desario
MF: Payton Rivard
MF: Alli Saviano
MF: Lilli Margewich
F: Sophia Wollenberg
F: Tatum Smith

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Alli Saviano, sr., MF, St. Charles East

Scoring Summary

First half
SCE: Wollenberg (penalty kick), 23’
SCE: Rosario (Saviano), 27’
SCE: Saviano (Loomis), 31’

Second half
SCE: Wollenberg (Saviano) 50’
OPRF: Simkowski (Cockerill) 71’
SCE: Smith (unassisted) 79’