Former Prairie Ridge soccer player Jessie Allan has marveled at watching the career of high school teammate Amy LePeilbet.
“It’s always been surreal to see her playing at the national level and on the world stage,” Allan said. “It was awesome last year seeing her in the World Cup, but there’s nothing like seeing her get a gold medal.”
Allan said she held back tears Thursday while watching LePeilbet receive her gold medal with the U.S. women’s soccer team, which defeated Japan, 2-1, in the Olympic championship match in London. The victory avenged the U.S.’s loss to Japan in last year’s World Cup final.
LePeilbet has played for the U.S. National Team most seasons since 2004, although she missed competing with the gold medal team in the 2008 Olympics while recovering from a knee injury. Prairie Ridge athletic director Patti Hie coached LePeilbet in basketball and called her “the best athlete I’ve ever coached.”
LePeilbet graduated from Prairie Ridge in 2000 and is believed to be the first Olympic gold medalist from McHenry County.
Carli Lloyd scored both U.S. goals, and LePeilbet came up with a big save in the 74th minute with the U.S. leading, 2-1. She dropped to her knees and blocked a shot with her body before her teammates took possession of the ball.
Japan’s Yuki Ogimi scored in the 63rd minute, and Japan almost tied the score in the 83d when Mana Iwabuchi stole the ball from Christy Rampone and moved toward the goal. U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo made an outstanding save to preserve the lead.
The U.S. has won four of the five titles since women’s soccer was brought into the Olympics in 1996.
“I emailed her as soon as the game was over,” Hie said. “It’s very exciting. Amy’s a great role model to young girls all over. If you make up your mind to do something, you can do it. She wanted to be the best she could be. She has a tremendous work ethic and the talent to go with it.”
LePeilbet was a center midfielder at Prairie Ridge, while Allan was a forward. Allan, now an attorney in Wheaton, remembers when she discovered just how good LePeilbet was.
“She was a great athlete and she came to play for my club [Sparta] with an older level,” Allan said. “She had the God-given talent. I saw my coach’s reaction when he saw her play for the first time, and that’s when I realized how good she was. She had the combination of humility and a great work ethic.”
Former Prairie Ridge goalkeeper Cheryl Sarnwick, who now lives in Estes Park, Colo., said she enjoyed watching a classic game for the final.
“It was a pretty fun game to watch; both were well-represented teams,” Sarnwick said. “I was a little nervous during the 75th minute, but I think I was more nervous during the awards ceremony, seeing Amy get the gold around her neck.”
Jessica Kanold McIntyre, a former Prairie Ridge basketball teammate of LePeilbet’s, knew she had that drive to succeed at the highest level when they were in high school.
“She has that strength and dedication, mentally and physically, to do what she puts her mind to,” said McIntyre, who lives in Crystal Lake. “She would always push herself to the limit. She’s at the best level in the world and she’s the most humble person she can be. She’ll never tell you about herself, it’s always about the team and the other girls.”
Hie received a text from Prairie Ridge school nurse Patti Secrest congratulating her for coaching an Olympic gold medalist.
“I may also have played for a gold medal winner too,” said Hie, who played basketball at DePaul for Doug Bruno, a U.S. women’s basketball assistant coach. “He’s a great man who knew and cared a lot about you.”
Hie hopes to get in touch with LePeilbet sometime after she returns to the U.S.
“I told her if she ever wanted to come back [to Crystal Lake] I’d fly her here,” Hie said. “We could have an Amy LePeilbet Day.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.