WHEATON – A stunningly early deficit on unfamiliar home turf left the St. Francis girls soccer team unsettled for a time on Tuesday night.
Yielding a goal on a free kick 30 seconds into the program’s Class 3A postseason debut wasn’t exactly blissful.
But the Spartans regrouped, exhaled and defeated Bartlett 4-2 in a St. Francis Regional semifinal at Wheaton College. They’ll hope to be equally resilient during Friday’s regional final against top-seeded St. Charles North.
“That’s been one of our goals this season – keep each other up and lift each other up,” St. Francis junior midfielder Ava Hensley said. “When we didn’t get down on each other after that goal, we were just like, ‘OK, guys. This is our game.’ That attitude impacted the game a lot, and we didn’t stop making those runs, and we just kept going after them.”
Spartans senior forward Hannah Rittenhouse tallied the tying and winning goals, notching the latter after converting a long run through four Hawks defenders with 18:53 to play.
An Iowa signee, Rittenhouse gathered the ball near midfield, just a few yards behind where Bartlett’s Paige Bednarke had launched her rising (and rousing) free kick.
“Once I beat most of the girls, I saw the goalie kind of come out toward me, so I knew I kind of had the shot up,” Rittenhouse said. “So I just aimed for the back post, and after I saw it go over her hands, I knew it was in.”
Sophomore Katherine Lemke sealed the victory for St. Francis (7-7-3) with a goal just more than four minutes later.
Hensley scored the team’s second goal with 1:45 to play before halftime, providing an ultimately short-lived lead. Congestion in front of Spartans goalkeeper Aubrey Quaranto helped create the tying goal for Bartlett (6-13-2), as the Hawks tapped in a loose rebound five minutes into the second half.
The teams traded chances for the next 15 minutes, with the Spartans owning most of the pressure.
“I knew we had it in us,” Rittenhouse said, “and I wasn’t nervous that we weren’t going to score.”
Hawks coach Vince Revak called the opening sequence “a dream start.” In the next breath, however, he admitted his team wasn’t accustomed to such early cushions, bemoaning a lack of sustained aggressiveness the rest of the way.
The victory extended the season for Spartans, who have been nomadic on numerous fronts.
After winning the Class 2A state title in 2018, the program climbed to Class 3A this season. All the while, the Spartans have not practiced or played a match at their on-campus stadium in 2019 due to drainage issues.
Monday marked their first action at Wheaton College. The steadiest venue for practices and games: Graf Park, a short drive northeast of campus.
“We can either use it as an excuse or not, and we don’t,” Rittenhouse said. “We’ll practice anywhere we have to. Even if it’s a little patch of grass, we’ll get the amount of work we need in to be where we are right now.”
Spartans coach Jim Winslow applauds the school’s athletic department for “getting us time and trying to find space for us.”
Winslow also is bullish about St. Francis’ chances against the North Stars, who edged the Spartans, 1-0, in St. Charles in the first week of the season.
“They’re a deserving No. 1, but we’ve played a brutal schedule just kind of in preparation for this stuff, so we’ll show up,” Winslow said. “We’ll give them a run.”