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Game story: Fremd, Zimmerman fly high at Conant

By Bill McLean, 04/07/24, 12:15PM CDT


Gifted, springy soph notches assist and head-turning goal in MSL victory


By Bill McLean

HOFFMAN ESTATES — Most teens would need a pogo stick to pull off what Fremd sophomore midfielder Gwen Zimmerman did Friday night.

“Crazy. How high she got up was crazy,” Fremd senior Ava Catherall said.

With Fremd up 3-0 in the 77th minute of a Mid- Suburban League match at Conant’s Charlie O. Feutz Field, Catherall launched a soaring, far-post corner kick toward a swarm of jockeying Vikings and Cougars.

“It felt too strong,” Catherall said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way Gwen would be able to jump high enough to head my corner.’”

Crazy-good Zimmerman — a Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater and a Class 3A track and field relay state qualifier as a freshman last spring — popped straight up and could have become the Big Dipper’s eighth bright star if she had not been satisfied with just bumping home a three-yard header to cap Fremd’s 4-0 victory.

“The top half of Gwen’s body was above the head of every other player when she scored,” a still-awestruck Catherall recalled. “She’s so athletic.

“I can’t wait to watch the replay of her goal.”

The Denison-bound Catherall was also an integral figure of another must-see-again moment Friday night. The midfielder notched her first assist of the season on sophomore forward Lily Mayer’s goal in the 11th minute. Mayer settled Catherall’s pass near the top of the 18 and hammered a high, near-post slingshot that had more English on it than a Minnesota Fats billiards shot.

“Crazy curve,” marveled Fremd sophomore Sami Serpico, who started at left back but generated plenty of chances at left forward — her club position — against Conant (4-2-0, 1-1-0 in the MSL).

“Lily’s goal,” she added, “was incredible.”

Zimmerman was a whirlwind in the match. She drew the foul in the 40th minute that preceded senior back and ’23 Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater Gemma Gillespie’s PK that put the visitors up 2-0 just before the break.

Zimmerman provided the assist on Serpico’s first goal of the season, a three-yard tap-in past Conant freshman goalkeeper Annabel Danso (16 saves) in minute 47.

Catherall’s bookend helpers and Zimmerman’s stellar efforts in between her mate’s assists netted Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honors for both Vikings.

Fremd (2-1-2, 2-0-0), ranked no. 21 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 poll, secured the run of play from the get-go — the first shot-on-goal of the match rocketed off the right foot of Mayer — and never relinquished it against a foe that’s listed among the ranking’s honorable mention teams.

“We played free, and we played without thinking,” Fremd coach Steve Keller said. “We didn’t allow many possessions. We let the ball do the work. That was the difference tonight. I saw a lot of good stuff. We communicated well; I’d never heard them talk as much as they did tonight.

“Our players were in control and having fun, especially in the second half.”

Both sides were not at full strength. Fremd battled without senior back and Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List selectee Bella Scesniak (ankle injury from March 20),
while Conant missed the services of senior forward and leading scorer Sophie Dobrincu, another All-State Watch List pick, and freshman midfielder Gabby Coyne.

Dobrincu was rested because of an injury, and starter Coyne had a prior commitment.

“Fremd is ridiculously good,” first-year Conant head coach Jeff Melone said. “That line change Steve made (lots of Vikes subs had entered in the 56th minute) didn’t slow them down at all. All 18 players over there are athletic and skillful. It’s a fun team
to watch.”

“Fremd,” Cougars junior back Claire Husnick added, “has great chemistry.”

And it showed, often, sans lab coats. Keller’s crew competed with a potent combination of relentlessness and resolve, along with dashes of joy here and there.

“We executed good crosses, and we moved the ball exceptionally well,” Serpico said. “But what I liked most about our team tonight was how we started — with urgency. We
came out hard, and we never stopped playing that way.”

“Playing with the energy we had,” Catherall added, “made it fun.”

Winning keeper Emily Gordon’s only save of the night came in the 67th minute, off a shot from Conant senior midfielder Megan Ferengul.

The Cougars fought resolutely on a night its opponent was at its best.

“Our defensive effort was strong tonight,” she said. “We just need to help our wings and forwards more.”

Danso made sensational save after sensational save, all while standing on her head without a hockey goaltender’s mask. The high school rookie recorded 10 of her 16 stops in the first half.

Conant trailed only 1-0 after 39 minutes because of Danso’s so-good reactions as Fremd peppered shots at her.

“Annabel had allowed a couple of soft goals the last time she played here (in a 3-1 loss to no. 25 South Elgin on March 19),” Melone said. “There was nothing soft about her game tonight. She was busy and awesome, behind a defense that battled hard all game and stayed organized.”

Both squads face MSL opponents next week. Fremd hosts Rolling Meadows at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a road match at Hoffman Estates at 7 p.m. Wednesday and a home
date with Prospect at 7 p.m. Friday. The Vikes then visit no. 2 Barrington at 10 a.m. Saturday. Conant hosts Barrington at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Hersey at 7 p.m. Friday.


Keller spent spring break in the Florida panhandle last month. “It rejuvenated me,” he said. Good thing. His Vikings are scheduled to play four games in five days next week and four
more in four days the following week. “We’re making strides,” Keller said minutes before kickoff Friday night. “We’re looking forward to playing games. It’s been a while since we last played a game (March 20, a 5-1 win over visiting Hersey).” … Shortly after Danso made a spectacular diving save to her right on a cannon shot by Fremd sophomore midfielder Sophia Kennedy in the 46th minute, Vikings assistant Gerardo Pagnani barked, “Great job! That’s soccer!” Fremd senior forward Natalia Wala — who celebrated a birthday with the win —initiated the entertaining sequence with a slick feed to Kennedy. … Keller, on Catherall: “She’s our energizer. Never stops. She’s also deceptive — deceptively quick.” … Keller is in his 25th girls season at Fremd, and Melone, a varsity assistant under former Conant girls coach Jason Franco, is in his first year at the helm
of the Cougars. … Fremd took eight corner kicks to Conant’s zero.

Starting lineups

GK Emily Gordon
D Sami Serpico
D Gemma Gillespie
D Lia DiGirolamo
D Maddie McMillan
MF Cami Tofilon
MF Sophia Kennedy
MF Gwen Zimmerman
MF Ava Catherall
F Natalia Wala
F Lily Mayer

GK Annabel Danso
D Amani Urban
D Olivia Hagler
D Reese Staniak
D Claire Husnick
MF Megan Ferengul
MF Avery Connelly
MF Brianna Serna
F Katelyn Fink
F Lily Maio
F Vivian Brand

Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Ava Catherall, sr., MF,
Fremd; Gwen Zimmerman, so., MF, Fremd

Scoring summary

First half
Fremd — Mayer (Catherall), 11’
Fremd — Gillespie (PK), 40’

Second half
Fremd — Serpico (Zimmerman), 47’
Fremd — Zimmerman (Catherall), 77’