Pritzker Repeat As Varsity Girls Soccer Champions

 

Stuart Field at IIT, Chicago, IL - After the horn sounded to end the second overtime, there may have been more players lying on the field than standing.  Bulls Prep and Pritzker had just played a full 80 minute match as well as two 10 minute overtime periods.  Both teams literally left everything on the field, but had to pick themselves up, as the match remained tied 1-1.  What was to come may be considered more excruciating mentally than the physical test the players had endured over the course of the previous 100 minutes.  Teams began to regroup, hydrate and choose players who would take part in the penalty kick shootout that would determine the NAC Varsity Girls Soccer championship.  

Meeting in the championship for a third year in a row, the teams were not only familiar with each other, but also with overtime.  The previous two championships had gone to extra time, won by Bulls Prep in 2014 and Pritzker in 2015, but never to penalty kicks. Pritzker entered this year's edition undefeated in NAC play. Coach Luz Espinoza reflected, “Throughout the season we have worked on focusing more on our strengths than on our weaknesses. Players were put in positions they hadn’t played before or weren’t too comfortable playing, but with the support of their teammates and the trust the coaching staff had in them, their confidence increased.“

Bulls Prep, the #2 seed, struck first with a goal from freshman Claudia Llanas midway through the first half.  The match remained tight throughout the first half and Bulls Prep took the 1-0 lead into halftime.  Pritzker sophomore Jocelin Luna stated, “One key attribute of my team is playing with heart.  The championship was a rollercoaster full of emotions.  At first we were all happy, but then the moment that our opponent scored on us, we weren't ready for it. We were used to winning, not losing in a game. This brought our team down. When our coaches talked to us at halftime, reality hit, and we were told we had to come back stronger than ever.”  After 16 minutes of second half play, Pritzker equalized with a goal from freshman Keyla Romero.  Luna continued, “The goal scored during the second half gave everyone hope and determination to feel the same way we did last year after the win.”  Each team had opportunities the remainder of the second half and overtime, but were not able to convert.  Bulls Prep coach Rafael Quizon recalled the end of the overtime period, “The part of the game that stands out most prominently in my mind was when the ref blew his whistle to end the second overtime.  Several players from both teams immediately fell to the ground and just lay there in exhaustion before they could even go back to their teams’ benches.  It was such a poignant moment and epitomized how hard both teams played through 100 minutes.  Bulls and Pritzker bring out the best in each other’s game – there’s nothing more I could ask of students from both teams.”

The coin flip to begin the penalty kick shootout left Pritzker with the right to kick first.  The player on the other end of the kicks for Pritzker was goalie Lissette Espinoza.  Pritzker coach Amanda Meyers recounted her interaction with the sophomore.  “After we had the lineup set, I ran over to talk to Lissette before she stepped in goal. I grabbed her face, told her she was strong, talented, smart, and exactly who we needed in the net. I told her we believed in her and that she could and would win this game for us. She was nervous, but she was ready. She shook her head, gave me a hug, and headed towards the net. It was such a great moment to see her confidence shine.”

Junior Jessica Delgado, senior Desiree Jimenez and sophomore Jocelin Luna were the first three Pritzker players chosen to take a PK and each converted.  Delgado admitted a few nerves, “When it was time for the penalties, my whole team was literally freaking out. Some began to cry and others did not want to shoot, but I'm a captain. I will be honest, I was so nervous, but I knew already my coach was going to write me up first to shoot. So I remained calm and believed in myself that I got this. I kept my focus and my composure together. Penalties are something I rarely practice, but my focus in the game led me to score my penalty.”  Pritzker was ahead 3-1 after three rounds of penalty kicks.  Pritzker hit the crossbar with their fourth round try, but with the ensuing Bulls Prep miss, Pritzker wrapped up the championship 3-1 on penalty kicks.

Video: https://twitter.com/NAC_Athletics/status/729036333839220736

Bulls Prep finished the season with their only two losses to NAC opponents coming at the hands of Pritzker.  Coach Quizon summarized, “I thought our defense played one of it's best games of the season.  Pritzker has a very strong midfield attack in #7 (Jessica Delgado) and #10 (Keyla Romero) and our defense was able to remain composed in containing their players and not losing track of their assignments.  Pritzker beat us 4-1 earlier in the season but in the championship we held a 1-0 lead for a majority of the game, which showed how much we’ve developed on the defensive side of the ball.  I do want to highlight the accomplishments of our senior captain, Luz Dominguez, who has had a spectacular career at Bulls.  She has broken the school record with 35 goals in 19 games this season, in addition to holding the school record for most goals scored in her career.  Though she went scoreless in the final, her presence on the field forces any team to adjust because she is such a dynamic player.  We will surely miss her next year!”

It may have taken 20 extra minutes and penalty kicks, but the repeat had been completed.  After the match, Meyers reflected, “From the beginning of the season, we’ve told the girls that they need to be committed to success and play with heart. You win as a team and you lose as a team, so you leave no player behind and let no player off the hook. In my 4 years of coaching at Pritzker, this is absolutely the most dedicated team I’ve worked with. The girls set their mind to winning the championship and worked very hard to achieve it. Their collective commitment made our jobs as coaches much easier this season.”  

Going forward, Espinoza said, “Our main goals as a team this season were having fun, winning the NAC championship, and winning sectionals. We have so far had fun winning the NAC championship. Now we are hoping to win a regional for the third time, then sectionals, and if possible, even state.”