JOLIET – After Madison College handed its its first defeat Sept. 15, Joliet the Junior College women’s soccer team had the opportunity to return the favor when the two sides met again in a clash of nationally ranked teams Wednesday.
With the WolfPack looking to clinch the North Central Community College Conference title on JJC’s field, the hosts grabbed a 2-0 second-half lead and then held off a late comeback effort to capture a 2-1 win, which was the same score as the teams’ earlier meeting.
Madison (11-1-1, 9-1-1), which is ranked fourth in NJCAA Division III, still can win the N4C title with a home victory over Triton on Friday. The No. 10 Flyers (17-2, 9-2), who have won nine matches in a row, will end their regular season on Friday when they host Rock Valley, which handed them their last defeat on Sept. 20.
The WolfPack had allowed only six goals before Wednesday’s match, and no team had scored more than one goal against them. The two teams could meet again later this month in the Region IV tournament, where they’ll be the two top seeds.
“I’m excited about the performance of our athletes today,” JJC coach Wes Dapkus said. “Our connectivity has been enhanced throughout the course of the year through team-building exercises and having fun during practice. We preach hard work and fun, and they’re really starting to like each other and link well together, and be in the right spots at the right times by communicating with each other and helping each other out.
“The field was very mediocre based on the rainfall we’ve had and the men’s program playing on it yesterday. But both teams found moments to settle the game down and connect passes, and both teams understand how to transition, and that’s what made this a very exciting match. At the end of the day, we just outworked them and had the right kind of moments.”
Hannah Rieker, a Minooka graduate, had two of JJC’s best first-half chances, but one attempt was cleared by a defender and another was halted by goalkeeper Brandie Gospodarek, who recorded eight saves. The Wolves moved in front for good in the 43rd minute, when Brianna Darlage, a Lincoln-Way West graduate, got a loose ball in the box and put in a short try.
“The ball went off of a defender, and it was right in front of me,” Darlage said. “We knew that they could score at any moment, and the momentum definitely shifted after they scored, but we did everything that we’ve worked on to really anchor down on defense and get the ball out. It’s really cool to see people that you’ve played against in high school, and now you’re on the same team with them and you get to come together to make it work. Everyone has clicked pretty well from the start, and after our two losses, everyone’s’ focus has shifted.”
There were more good scoring chances in the final 45 minutes, beginning with free kicks from Plainfield South graduate Lindsey Bond and Plainfield South graduate Miranda Nirchi that went inside to Minooka graduate Hailey Arlis, whose header was deflected away. Madison countered with a couple of good attempts from Peyton Trapino and a shot from Britt Schumann that bounced off the post.
JJC, which also got four shots on goal from Morgan Samp, grabbed a 2-0 advantage in the 71st minute when Bond placed a corner kick in front and after Nirchi got a touch on it, Arlis was able to head the ball in for the score.
“We knew that it was going to be a really intense game, and we realized that we had nothing to lose,” Arlis said. “We had already lost to them once and had two losses under our belts, and they had none, so they didn’t know how it felt to lose, and we did. So we kind of took that and used it as our fire, since we really wanted to beat them and give them their first loss. We work very well together, and at practice we have so much fun. We do goof off, but we also know when to get serious, and we know what we have to do and when to do it.”
Madison closed the gap to 2-1 in the 81st minute, when Tierra Sackett sent a cross to Erin True, who connected from close range.
The WolfPack had three more solid opportunities as time wound down, but Wolves keeper Kiana Wheeler, a Peotone graduate who recorded 12 saves, was up to the challenge. During the final minutes, she thwarted attempts by Schumann and Annabelle Shere before grabbing a late corner kick from Anna Cappaert.