Lady Dukes' 20-win season ended by DGS in sectional semis
By Matt Le Cren
CLICK HERE FOR LADY DUKES' TEAM PAGE
You never know when an old lesson is going to come in handy.
It did for Downers Grove South coach Barry Jacobson on Tuesday when his squad knocked off York 2-1 in the Class 3A Downers Grove South Sectional semifinals.
And it was an emotional win 18 years in the making.
“I have to thank my friend Al Harris,” Jacobson said. “I owe this to Coach Al Harris.”
Harris, a longtime Downers Grove resident, is the former Naperville North coach whose career victories record was broken by Jacobson in 2004.
But 10 years before that, Harris beat Jacobson in a game Jacobson, who is retiring at the end of this season, has never forgotten.
“In ’94 when we were [unbeaten] and the No. 1 seed in the state we played them here in the last week of the season and he sat his entire starting lineup,” Jacobson recalled.
“And a week later he beat us in the regional and it was our only loss of the year. He taught me when I was a younger coach that not every game counts. It’s the right game that counts.”
Jacobson employed a similar strategy when Downers South hosted York in the regular-season finale 12 days ago, electing to sit his top six starters. He wanted to give his key players some rest and didn’t want the Dukes to see how the Mustangs played.
Not surprisingly, York rolled to a 5-0 victory. The benched starters watched the drubbing and vowed revenge.
“A couple weeks ago they kind of killed us on our own field and they were coming in our turf again,” Downers South senior forward Sarrah Ludwig said. “And we just wanted to prove to them that we’re not a team that is nothing.”
The Mustangs (17-5-3) did just that, using two goals from Ludwig and outstanding defensive play from their back line led by Jessica Pikul, Lori Niehaus, Caitlin Carr and Shannon Snyder to eliminate York (20-5), which had won 11 straight and 16 of its past 18 games.
Both of Ludwig’s goals came on headers, a familiar sight this spring. The Valparaiso recruit leads Downers South with 24 goals, the vast majority of which have come in the air.
“She’s fabulous,” Jacobson said. “She’s a fabulous girl in the air. It’s very rare to find any player that good in the air.”
Ludwig’s first goal broke a scoreless tie with 26:05 left in the second half. Pikul’s in-swinging corner kick was headed inside the far post, but Ludwig crashed in and headed it home, just to be sure.
“It was almost in but I just wanted to make sure it was in the back of the net,” Ludwig said. “I was pretty much in the net, too.”
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” Pikul noted.
Ludwig’s second strike also came on a set piece. This time it was a long throw-in from the left wing by Jessica Bronke that found Ludwig’s head.
She used the back of it to flick the ball behind her and inside the right post for what held up as the game-winner with 9:57 remaining.
“It’s really been a key to my goals this year,” Ludwig said. “I’ve always been a good header, but this year I’ve just kind of sprung up, just gotten so much better. I love playing the ball with my head.”
And her teammates love throwing it to her head.
“It’s like it’s calling,” Bronke said. “It’s like Sarrah’s head is glowing and I just throw it right to her. We’ve done it a lot.”
Some soccer purists believe true goals are scored only in the run of play, but the Mustangs know that any goal is a good goal and they use their talent on restarts to full advantage.
“We’re definitely a set piece-focused team,” Ludwig said. “We look to get corners, we look to get throw-ins. We know at least one or two goals are coming off set pieces in the game.”
The Mustangs needed it because the Dukes held an advantage in the run of play during a hard-fought match in which both sides displayed outstanding hustle.
York outshot the Mustangs 18-9 and had six corner kicks. But star forwards Christina Ordonez and Courtney McHugh were held relatively in check, with Ordonez getting off four shots, one less than McHugh.
Ludwig, Pikul, Bronke and senior goalie Cassidy Hermann – who made 10 saves in this one – were among the starters who sat out the first meeting between the teams and they developed a plan.
“[During the 5-0 loss] we were watching their players a lot, especially their forwards, and we just picked up on that,” Pikul said. “We knew that a lot of times the ball went to them and that they were their key players.
“You saw [McHugh] score on an amazing shot. They’re good, but we knew we had to stick with them and not let them turn and get shots off.”
The visitors were limited to just one partial breakaway, but McHugh capitalized on it to tie the game 1-1 with 18:23 to go. The Wisconsin signee ran onto a long ball up the right wing and somehow blasted a 15-yard shot between Hermann and the right post.
“It was a great shot,” Ludwig said. “She’s got a heckuva shot. It was a little nerve-wracking but I knew we had plenty of time. I knew if we stayed calm and collected and we played as hard as we can, we’d get the second one.”
Both Ludwig and Jacobson attributed the victory to great team play.
Whether it was sophomore Emily Wauer throwing her body all over the field in pursuit of loose balls up front to Bronke winning collision after collision in the midfield to the defenders somehow staying with Ordonez and McHugh, the Mustangs managed to play one of their best matches when they needed it most.
“This was one of the most physical games we’ve played in a while,” Ludwig said. “They are a great physical team.
“But everyone played good. Every single position defended the ball, shot the ball, passed the ball. It was a team effort tonight. Everyone is on the same page, even the people on the bench [who] were cheering us on during the entire game.”
The veteran Mustangs coach agreed.
“Both teams played great, a lot of hard-nosed play,” Jacobson said. “We thought if we kept them in front of us, not let their two [stars] get in front of us, [we’d be okay].
“I thought Emily Wauer played a good game, Bronke played outstanding and our back four really didn’t give them any looks. We gave them one late and McHugh buried it. Cassidy did a good job, made that one great save.”
Now the Mustangs are into the sectional finals, where they will play upstart Hinsdale Central (9-12-2), which edged Morton 1-0 in overtime, at 6 p.m. Friday. All of the players, but especially the seniors, have added incentive to keep extending the career of Jacobson, who now has 486 wins.
“We’re always motivated each year to go far in state, but Coach leaving gives us more incentive to give it a good run, to give it the best shot we can because it’s his last year,” Pikul said.
“We want to get far because it’s his last season and we want to make it memorable for him and for us,” Bronke said. “As seniors we haven’t ever made it this far so we just want to keep going and pushing ourselves to the next game.”
Downers South is playing in its first sectional final since 2008, when it placed fourth in the state. What makes this season different from the past three, when the Mustangs failed to win a regional?
“I think this year we have a lot of heart and I think that translates on the field really well and we’re able to put it all out there,” Bronke said. “We might not be the most skilled, but we have the most heart I think.”