NAPERVILLE – All season, there had never been any quit in the Johnsburg girls soccer team.
So it only made sense that the Skyhawks would have to fight from behind in their final game. But after drawing even with Alton Marquette Catholic once on Saturday, a second comeback rally fell short in a 2-1 loss in the IHSA Class 1A consolation game at North Central College.
Carolyn Hoefert's goal with 12:43 remaining proved to be the game-winner, ending Johnsburg's historic run into the state tournament. The Skyhawks, who finished fourth, became the first team in any sport to reach the state tournament.
Afterward, as players embraced with medals hanging around their necks from red,white and blue ribbons, the finality of the moment sank in and tears started to flow. But in time, Skyhawks' captains Abbie Ullrich and Olivia Jansen said, the bigger picture will come into focus.
"For the seniors, it was a really good way to go out as a final memory of high school," said Jansen, who tied the game at 1 just under nine minutes into the second half. "All we wanted was to have 80 more minutes on the field with each other.
"That's kind of what our mentality was throughout the playoffs – we didn't care what was at the end of the road, we just wanted to be together."
So perhaps, it was appropriate that after the loss the Skyhawks walked across the field, hand-in-hand and took one final bow for their fans, commemorating their accomplishment.
Johnburg, which finished 14-8, trailed by a goal at halftime after Marquette's Kate Sanfilippo provided the Explorers with an early lead. Despite not registering many chances, Johnsburg kept pushing, believing it was only a matter of time before their offense settled into a groove.
Jansen appeared to shift the momentum into the Skyhawks' favor. Delaney Pruitt delivered a perfect crossing pass to Jansen, who fired a shot into the right corner of the net, tying the score at 1.
Once even, Johnsburg coach Rob Eastland figured it was only a matter of time before his team struck again.
"I'd be foolish to say we couldn't come back because we've done it all year," he said. "I think the girls don't know how to lose without trying. They just enjoy playing the game."
But the goal Johnsburg hoped would come to give them a lead never materialized. Marquette kept taking its chances but was unable to finish before Hoefert took a pass from Sanfilippo and drilled a shot past a diving Kelsey Stefka for the game-winner.
From there, it was just a matter of the Explorers hanging on.
"They were really tough and once we got that goal, it was just us dropping back and (saying), 'We can't give up another goal,'" Hoefert said. "It wasn't like our momentum dropped (after Johnsburg scored), but we just knew we had to play even harder."
True to form, though, Johnsburg didn't give up. Even though the Skyhawks weren't able to complete the comeback, they left the field understanding the significance of what this season means – not only to them, but to the school where their fourth place trophy will host special significance.
"This is amazing we came here," Ullrich said. "I'm not sad we lost by any means – we're fourth in the state. I'm just sad I'm losing my team. I made family on this team."