NORMAL — While it took the Normal Community High School girls soccer team virtually the entire season to claim the Intercity Tournament title, it took the Iron less than two minutes to score what turned out to be the clinching goal.
Some nifty passing resulted in senior forward Caelyn Steffens booting home a score just 1:21 into the contest, launching NCHS to a 3-0 win over University High in the tournament finale on Monday at ISU's Adelaide Street Field.
While the quest for the crown usually takes the five Intercity contestants about a week-and-a-half, a cold and rainy April transformed this year's edition into a nearly month-and-a-half marathon.
The longevity didn't dampen Steffens' enthusiasm for the Iron running the table in the tourney in her senior year.
"It's a great accomplishment and one we've been looking forward to all season," Steffens said. "We've all been working really well together."
NCHS coach Matt Chapman was particularly pleased with how well the Iron worked together in the opening half on Monday.
"I thought our passing was really good early on," Chapman said. "I thought we were combining well early early in the game and that led to some terrific opportunities."
The first half was played primarily with NCHS on the attack at the south end of the field, peppering U High goalkeeper Sophie Dorgan with a flurry of shots.
Dorgan responded splendidly to keep the Pioneers in the game.
"I thought (Dorgan) had a great day, a terrific game," Chapman said. "She had to make some really nice saves that kept the score down a little bit."
"She's just really good," said U High coach Hayley Sefton, lavishing praise on her sophomore keeper. "That's why the score was only 3-0 because she's fantastic. She made a lot of really hard saves that probably not a lot of other keepers are going to make."
NCHS outshot the Pioneers 11-1 in the game.
The Iron were able to add another goal with 13 minutes remaining in the first half when freshman forward Ryann Anderson corraled a pass with her back to the net and spun around to launch a rocket on goal that gave NCHS a 2-0 halftime lead.
"I often find myself in that situation, with my back to the goal and a defender on my back," Anderson said. "I look to take those opportunities when I can."
Anderson added an insurance tally for the Iron in the second half, this time facing the goal and lifting a shot from about 35 yards out that floated into the back of the net.
With two starters sidelined with injuries, Sefton said she used the game to experiment with different players and formations while getting the Pioneers ready for the postseason.
"We started a new formation today at the beginning and were planning, regardless of what the score was, to do another one," she said.
A change in the second-half scheme worked nicely.
"I thought we'd come out a little tougher at halftime," said Chapman, "but (U High) did a good job of defending. They put a lot of people in the box and clogged things up in there that made it difficult for us to get through."
U High fell to 9-8-1 overall and ended the Intercity tourney at 2-2.
NCHS improvd to 17-3-2 overall after going undefeated in the tournament.
The Iron seek to add another trophy to the case this week.
"We've got an opportunity to play for the Big 12 championship on Thursday," Chapman said. "We've still got a lot of things we can improve on, but we're pleased with how we've done so far."