FREEPORT – At 12:48 p.m., former Prairie Ridge soccer player and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Amy LePeilbet sent out a good luck tweet to her former team before the Wolves' Class 2A Freeport Sectional final against Freeport.
When word about the tweet got around to the team, the players became giddy and felt honored that an accomplished athlete who has been in the same position would be thinking of them before their biggest moment of the season.
"I think that gave everyone a boost of excitement and everyone was ready to go and ready to win after that," Wolves goalkeeper Whitney Whitehouse said.
The excitement and readiness carried over onto the field as the Wolves (17-2-1) defeated Freeport, 2-1, for their first sectional championship since 2005.
The Pretzels scored 20 goals in their first three matches in the postseason and, while playing on their home field, looked as if they were going to continue that trend early on as they had a great chance in the first few minutes but Whitehouse made a spectacular save, one of eight, to deny the goal.
She then punted the ball out and after working it around to create space, Bri Fenton scored in the 10th minute on a cross from Becaa Hoklas to put the Wolves up, 1-0. But Freeport's offense kept coming and tested Whitehouse six times in the first half but couldn't find the back of the net.
"When you go up one goal, it's about protecting that goal while being aggressive," Wolves coach JC Brown said. "The other team wants to put it right back at you."
At halftime, Brown was nervous with the one-goal lead and told his team that they needed to come out in the second half and get a quick goal. Larissa Dooley was listening.
Just as the first three minutes ticked off the clock, the quick forward beat her defender at midfield and raced toward the net. The defender had no shot at catching her and Pretzel goalkeeper Fiona Neary had no chance as Dooley's shot skimmed across the top of the green turf for the Wolves second goal.
"I've been working on my breakaways recently," Dooley said, "and everything was a rush and it was an amazing feeling when it paid off and went in."
With the two-goal lead, the Wolves did what they do best; play defense. They shut down Freeport's top scorers and allowed just three shots in the second half. The only goal came on a penalty kick in the 72nd minute.
Prairie Ridge's dominant defense in the regular season has carried over into the postseason and is something the Wolves can always rely on. The Wolves would often tailor their game plan to certain teams in the regular season but without having a detailed knowledge of teams in the postseason, the Wolves are focused on playing their game while not worrying about what another team does and forcing teams to beat their vaunted defense. They believe that if they can execute it they can beat anyone.
"We can always rely on our defense at any point in the game no matter how tired we are," Brown said. "As long as we can play our game, they can take down anybody they want to."
The Wolves will play for a chance to go to state with a win at the Barrington SuperSectional on Tuesday. They will face the winner of Saturday's 11 a.m. Lake Villa Sectional final between Deerfield and Lake Forest.