Girls soccer: VanZanten's blast gives Stevenson NSC title over Libertyville
Stevenson won a second NSC title in three years after using a sensational first half goal from Mimi VanZanten and some watertight defense to defeat Libertyville, 1-0, Monday night in Lincolnshire.
With the victory, the Patriots (14-1-1) take home the big trophy all alone after sharing hardware a year ago with both Libertyville (12-3-2, 5-1-1) and Warren.
"This was a big game for both teams. We all know each other from club so to get a hard-fought win in these conditions says a lot about our team," VanZanten said.
VanZanten's composure on the ball after turning around a pair of defenders before her left-footed blast from just outside the box proved the eventual game-winner in the 27th minute.
"Mimi scored a great goal for us. (It) was so important because it came with us playing into a strong wind the entire first half," said junior Bri Welter, who was tasked with marking the Wildcats' terrific outside midfielder, Dakota Lyons.
Lyons' pace, speed, strength and strong left foot could have been deadly if not for some fine work from Welter.
"Dakota is such a great talent, but we knew when we assigned Bre to mark her all night, that she would do her best to keep her from hurting us on the outside. And in my opinion, she did a very good job against a player who will play next year at Ohio State University," said Patriots coach PepeJon Chavez.
Both sides would be greeted by unusually warm weather, plus a strong wind from the south that would roar through the Patriots stadium. That win made it difficult for the ball to stay on the pitch, particularly if it was sent into the air.
The Stevenson faithful held its collective breath when an early ball sent over the top from Abby Gordon would set Avery Gleason free on the other end and alone on Patriots keeper Mandy Meliker just 6 minutes in.
Gleason would go over the bar, in one of a handful of quality chances the visitors would create throughout the first half, unable to find the back of the net with each opportunity.
"I should have put that one in when I had the chance. (We) had a few others, but just were not sharp enough in the final third to make one of them count," admitted Gleason, whose twin sister Paige was a late scratch from Wildcats coach Daniel DePaz' starting 11 with an injury.
"Everyone has injuries to deal with. It was tough to lose Paige right before kickoff, and others stepped up tonight, and the team played hard, and tried to play our possession game, but that first goal was enough for them to win," said DePaz.
Sydney Dulak had a chance just after the intermission for the Wildcats, and later the freshman nearly beat Meliker after her strong run up the center channel saw her collect a lovely ball from Avery Gleason.
Patriots sophomore Ellie Egeland went close on three occasions in the second half as the home side looked to double its advantage. But on this night, it was the collective effort from Welter and her back line mates Hailey Livesay, Kaitlyn Hong and Haylie Popkey who held firm to insure victory.
"It was a great win, and one that I am very happy and proud of. Now we go back to work, and, if it all falls right, we could see them again at sectionals," said Chavez.
Next up for the Patriots is their season finale at Carmel on Thursday. Stevenson will host Buffalo Grove in its regional opener next week.
The Wildcats are on the road at St. Viator before their regional home opener with Palatine.