GIRLS SOCCER: Schultz’s overtime goal sends Herscher to state
MENDOTA — Herscher senior Olivia Schultz has imagined herself and her Tiger teammates playing at the IHSA State Finals since she stepped on the pitch as a freshman.
And thanks to her own right foot, that’s exactly what the Tigers will be doing this weekend.
Schultz dropped a 30-yard bomb off a free kick with just four minutes remaining in overtime to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead against Alleman, a score that would secure them the IHSA Class 1A Mendota Super-Sectional title Tuesday.
“I wasn’t even thinking, I was just so excited,” Schultz said of the initial moments after her game-winner. “I just turned around and had to run back to Chloe Chavers.”
Chavers and Schultz are two of the 10 seniors featured on the Tigers’ experienced roster, more than half a dozen of which were freshmen on the 2016 squad that fell in super-sectional action.
For Leighann Allison, a senior from that 2016 team and one of Tuesday’s scorers, making the trip as a senior makes up for missing the chance at a trophy as a freshman.
“We had a chance my freshman year, and it didn’t go the same way,” Allison said. “And now, it’s just amazing.”
Herscher scored first early on when senior Mattie Brown scored possibly the most beautiful goal of her career, which also happened to be her 100th. The Tigers’ all-time leading scorer received a pass from Cassidy Walter, made a quick move and pulled up from 25 yards out, firing a shot above the outstretched arms of Pioneers keeper Billi Fleck to put the Tigers ahead 1-0 at 10 minutes in.
The boot was so impressive even Brown herself was left in awe of what she had done, turning around with a look of surprise on her face.
“I was just dumbfounded,” Brown said. “It felt like my first goal ever; I just felt like a little kid.”
A dozen minutes later, Allison intercepted a Fleck pass from about the same spot and fired a laser herself that quickly doubled the Tigers’ lead.
Allison said her goal came off of the Tigers’ aggressiveness up front and through the midfield.
“[Herscher coach Christopher Longtin] told us that we had to defend and put pressure on them,” Allison said. “We did that and wanted to get the first shots off.”
Longtin said the Tigers came in with the same game plan they had in last week’s sectional victories against Peotone and Bishop McNamara, and that game plan worked again in the first half.
“Get out there, make them make mistakes and see what they’re made of,” Longtin said of the team’s strategy. “We try to go at it as hard as we can and usually that ends up benefiting us.”
Both Allison and Brown took advantage of a blustery day in Mendota, with recorded wind gusts of up to 35 mph, by getting their shots high enough off the ground to catch the wind and throw off Fleck.
Longtin credited many a windy day in Herscher for the Tigers’ ability to handle the cross-wind conditions.
“The Herscher wind’s about the same, maybe a little less,” Longtin joked. “We’re so used to playing in it; we do it everyday, but this was a little bit more extreme.”
The Pioneers were finally able to get the ball out of their defensive end in the second half and furiously rallied. Thirteen minutes into the second half, Julia DeSmet scored on a feed from Kendall Wendt to cut the Tigers’ lead in half.
With six minutes left in regulation, Wendt broke free and received a long through ball that seemingly skipped across a third of the pitch before she received it above the box and tied the game at two apiece before the Tigers were able to hunker back down defensively ahead of the overtime period.
“We still had to mark; we still had to contain them; we couldn’t ball chase,” Longtin said. “We knew their game plan was to split the middle and get those girls running, like a dump and chase. We tried to shut that down by putting pressure on the [midfield], and that helped tremendously.”
In the first half of overtime, the Tigers re-established the tempo and ball control they had early on but couldn’t find the back of the net. That changed in the second overtime, when an Alleman foul gave Schultz the opportunity to be a hero with her go-ahead score.
She sent a high fly-in that arced perfectly in, sandwiched narrowly between Fleck’s fingertips and the crossbar for a goal Schultz herself didn’t expect to score.
“I just knew how little time was left, so I was just like, ‘I’m gonna just take a shot and see what happens,’” Schultz said. “I usually miss [long shots], so I was surprised it went in.”
While Schultz wasn’t sure she would answer the call, Allison knew the Tigers were in good shape when Schultz was lining up.
“I have all the faith in Olivia when it comes to kicking the ball,” Allison said. “I know she’s going to put it in the right spot at the right time.”
After Schultz converted, Brown couldn’t help but let out all of the emotions that had built up during the past 100 minutes out all at.
“I just turned around and screamed, ‘Oh, my God,’” Brown said. “I thought my vocal cords were [going to] break … just that emotional release.”
More importantly than the individual achievement of scoring Tuesday’s game-winner, Schultz was thrilled in the tenacity and resilience the Tigers showed after the Pioneers had all the momentum heading into overtime.
“It really showed who we are — we were able to come back after they tied it back up and I’m just really proud of our team for being strong,” Schultz said. “We kept our heads up for the whole game and all of overtime.”
Longtin will be headed to the finals for the third time with the Tigers, who will be making their fourth trip in program history.
“I’m hoping the third time’s a charm for me,” Longtin said. “It feels awesome, and these girls worked very hard to get there.”
The Tigers have one more game to win before a championship game appearance, a state semifinal matchup with North Shore County Day at 7 p.m. Friday at North Central College in Naperville.
The Tigers’ 10 seniors will have to miss their high school graduation for their game, but for Brown, that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“I’m missing graduation to go to state, and it’s just awesome,” Brown said. “It’s definitely worth it.”