NAPERVILLE - Before the lightning, thunder and rain came Friday night, Normal West High School's girls soccer team was holding its own against unbeaten Aurora Waubonsie Valley at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
When the Class AA State Tournament quarterfinal match resumed after a delay of 1 hour and 15 minutes, Waubonsie Valley took control.
Christen Schuler scored a goal in front of the West net after Bri Rodriguez's free kick with three minutes left in the first half. West never could get its high-powered offense cranked up as Waubonsie Valley earned a 2-0 victory.
"The lightning (delay) took us out of the game, and they came back stronger. That was our demise," said West coach Reza Ghasemi. "Hat's off to them. They got to the ball faster than we did, passed better and really took us out of our game."
West was credited with seven shots, but only one on goal. Meanwhile, Wildcat freshman goalie Erin McGinnis made nine saves as Waubonsie Valley had 18 shots.
"We were never able to do what we have been all year long," said Ghasemi, whose team was averaging 5.1 goals per game. "The experience will pay off for next year."
West, making its first trip to the Elite Eight, ended with a 24-3 record. Waubonsie Valley (28-0-1), ranked No. 2 nationally by Soccer America Daily, advanced to today's 11 a.m. semifinal against Granite City, which knocked off defending champion New Trier 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
Lincoln-Way Central and Fremd met in the first semifinal at 9 a.m. The third-place match is at 5 p.m., with the championship match at 7 p.m.
West's best chance in the first half came at the 21-minute mark when Rachel Wright led a streaking Kayla Braffet. But Waubonsie Valley goalkeeper Claire Hanold ran up in the box and covered the ball just before Braffet arrived.
When lightning was spotted with 5:17 left in the first half, the teams went inside to seek shelter.
"We were feeling pretty confident. We knew we had to keep stretching and keep our mind in the game," said West forward Natalee Brown. "We weren't going to fool around or talk to any of the fans. We had to be serious and make sure we knew what we were going to do."
Waubonsie Valley sat and listened to music during the delay. Whatever they did, it worked.
"We weren't playing well before. We went into the little lighting (delay) or whatever it was, and we were playing slow," said Schuler, a senior defender. "We weren't playing one-two touch, and we were all dribbling too much. It wasn't good. We all pretty much said 'C'mon, this is getting kind of ridiculous.' "
Ghasemi sensed the tide had turned when the match resumed.
"It was a factor. We had started taking control and calming the game down," he said. "They took us out of our rhythm. That's what it was."
Waubonsie Valley standout freshman Vanessa DiBernardo showed why she is one of the state's best players in giving the Warriors a 2-0 lead. DiBernardo maneuvered around two West defenders and drilled a kick with her left foot from 18 yards out in the right corner past McGinnis for an unassisted goal at the 50:30 mark.
McGinnis made a couple nice saves afterwards to keep West in the game, and the Wildcats nearly cut into the deficit. Wright's blast got past Hanold, but hit the crossbar and bounced away with 14:20 left.
"That was unlucky," said Brown, rolling her eyes. "The whole time, if we could just get a goal, we could have had the momentum. Even when it got down to three minutes, we were playing as hard as we did before."
But the Wildcats knew Waubonsie Valley has won 25 straight matches for a reason.
"They could play one-touch passes like I have never seen," said Brown. "Every time I got the ball it was one touch out. We didn't even have time to get on them."
With no senior starters, West is hoping for a return state trip in 2008.
"Every year we seem to gain more experience and go further. We've never had a taste of it (state)," said Ghasemi. "Now, we know what it takes. Hopefully these girls come back and put it together for next time."