ELMHURST – Abi Wagner’s speed is a sight to see.
Whether making short bursts to get out of tight situations or 50-yard sprints down the field, the IC Catholic Prep junior can change a game in an instant.
While Wagner’s athleticism has many facets, her speed is her best asset.
“For sure, and that’s kind of our team goal,” Wagner said. “Just get [the ball] over the defense and then run after it, fetch and get it.”
That’s what the Knights did May 10. Wagner scored the first goal and set up the second as ICCP knocked off Guerin 2-0 to win the Class 1A regional championship game at Elmhurst College.
The Knights (14-7) take a six-game winning streak into their sixth sectional semifinal appearance in the past seven years.
ICCP has thrived despite a rash of injuries. Key starters Bella Leslie and Annie Guinan are out for the season and the Knights are starting four freshmen, including Wagner’s sister, Claire, who anchors the defense.
Abi Wagner has been a difference-maker. She was against the Gators, who played much tougher defensively than they did in a 5-2 loss to the Knights last month.
Wagner gave ICCP a 1-0 lead at the 26:50 mark of the first half when she got the ball about 30 yards from the Guerin goal, quickly sped past a defender up the middle and sent an 18-yard shot past Guerin goalie Mia Cianci.
Cianci made eight saves to keep the Gators (6-17) close, but the Knights used the soccer version of a home run ball to extend the lead with 27:23 remaining in the second half.
Olivia Hurt sent a lead pass from the defensive zone skittering to midfield, where Wagner ran onto it and sprinted 50 yards up the field. She appeared to have a sure goal when she dribbled the ball around the charging Cianci.
But as Wagner moved to get to the ball, Cianci leg-whipped Wagner, who landed heavily on her back. It was a blatant foul worthy of a red-card ejection, but Cianci didn’t even get a yellow card. Guerin tried to claim Cianci got the ball, but it was already past her when the foul was committed.
“That was the point – I was trying to cut away from contact,” Wagner said. “I felt like I got hit by a truck.”
Wagner left the game with a sore back and did not return, though she said she could have played if needed. Hurt stepped up to take the penalty kick and emphatically blasted it past Cianci for a 2-0 lead.
Wagner wasn’t disappointed about not being able to take the penalty kick, saying “Liv’s got my back for that.”
While Wagner and Hurt spend a lot of time practicing their attacking plays, Wagner’s speed just comes naturally.
“It’s kind of a genetic thing,” Wagner said. “I don’t train or anything.”
Wagner said she gets her speed from her father, Rob, who was a defensive lineman at Northern Illinois from 1989-92. She certainly demonstrated toughness against the Gators and continues to improve.
“I think she’s stepped up very well,” Hurt said. “Even from last year you can just see the improvement in her all-around game.
“Her finishing and her speed is even better. She’s my go-to girl.”