Triad’s underclassmen have emphasized how important it was for them to help the team’s six seniors close out their careers with a state championship.
Their mission was accomplished on a sizzling Saturday afternoon when the Knights outscored Wheaton Academy 5-4 in 14 rounds of penalty kicks to secure a 1-0 victory in the title game of the Class 2A state tournament at North Central College.
“We created a really strong bond with these seniors,” said Knights sophomore defender and Saint Louis University recruit Sydney Beach. “We love these girls and we just knew we had to do it for them. It was our job.”
Triad finished 22-6, winning its first title since 2011 when it also needed penalty kicks to defeat Marian Central, of Woodstock, 2-1. Wheaton Academy, which won the Class 1A championship last season, finished 20-7.
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“It’s a really good feeling,” said defender Morgan Bohnenstiehl, one of the Knights’ six seniors along with Meaghan Smith, Erynn Little, Sam Bassler, Madison Mell and Ashley Newcombe. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, so I’m waiting for it to hit. It was an amazing feeling running out with all my team, realizing it was my last game. We went out with a bang.”
In the sudden-death round, Triad freshman Sierra Schlemmer made a win-or-go home penalty kick that knotted the score at 4. Junior goalie Mercedes King then made a remarkable save as she dived to her left to stop Warriors senior Holland Kosiek. Knights junior Jody Ellis settled the matter with a high shot past junior Marta Oster.
“I was extremely nervous,” Ellis said. “But we always practice PKs at practice for a long time, and I always go left. I did that time and it went in.”
Triad coach Matt Bettlach said he was certain people were wondering about his mental state when he summoned the inexperienced Schlemmer to take a penalty kick. Junior Erin Teevans had just converted to give Wheaton Academy a 4-3 lead in sudden death.
Schlemmer, therefore, had to connect to the Knights and faced a long bus ride to Troy.
“I’m sure there were a lot of parents going, ‘What the heck is he thinking,’” Bettlach said. “But Sierra is very confident. She’s looking at me and she’s like, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll take it. I’ll go.’ She wanted to go in the first round. She wanted to go first. She loves penalty kicks. In practice, she’s one of our top five (shooters) consistently.”
King’s big save against Kosiek wrested away the momentum that Wheaton Academy had gained by making four consecutive penalty kicks after missing its first two.
“I knew I had to make a great save for my team because I knew it was sudden-death,” King said. “If I made a save, I knew we had a great opportunity. The girl was up at the line and she kept looking to my right. A lot of times, the girls will look to the opposite side they’re going to shoot, and I read that exactly right. I went the opposite way and that’s where the ball was kicked.”
King reiterated what Beach said about the Knights’ senior class.
“I know all the senior girls; this is what they wanted. I’m friends with every single one of them,” said King, who also made a stellar stop on a second-half shot by Teevans. “Every girl on this team, we wanted the same thing. All of us wanting the same thing made it easier because we could play together.”
Bettlach said it was a miracle that King was still in the game.
“Before the game, she tweaked her back on a dive,” Bettlach said. “We didn’t think she was going to be able to play. She was crying. For her to come out and play and go through the penalty kicks like she did, it’s amazing. It shows the kind of kid she is.”
Triad trailed 3-2 in first round of penalty kicks. But Knights sophomore Molly Suess, in the same situation Schlemmer would later face, converted to send it to sudden-death.
Suess, as she did in the sectional-championship victory over Chatham Glenwood, calmly pushed her shot past Oster.
Bassler and Smith also made penalty kicks prior to sudden death.
“This is literally my dream,” said Smith, an Illinois-Chicago recruit. “There’s no other words to (describe) it. Ever since we lost last year to Rochester, I told Matt, ‘We’re going to win state.’ I told the newspaper, ‘We’re going to win state because we have a great team and we all really, really wanted it.’ This is so amazing.”
Triad won its final four games of the season 1-0.
Wheaton Academy outshot Triad 9-7, regrouping in the second half and overtime periods after being outshot 3-1 in the first 40 minutes.