HOFFMAN ESTATES — The Crystal Lake South girls soccer team had been together for only two weeks, practicing on hardwood floors, before meeting a Conant team already familiar with playing outside on its field turf.
"This is our first time we've even been outside and seen anything that looks even remotely like grass," Gators first-year coach Jay Mueller said. "So we were just kind of experimenting today to see where all the pieces fit together."
The Cougars looked like the team that had more practice time outside as they scored early and padded the lead with two second-half goals to beat the Gators, 3-0, Monday night in the first match of the season for both squads.
Forward Emily Mazurek started the scoring for Conant (1-0) with the first of her two goals on a crossing pass from teammate Leah Celarek that traveled just out of the reach of diving Gators goalkeeper Jaclyn Przybylski in the eighth minute.
The Gators (0-1) struggled early on defense, as the Cougars' fast forwards were able to get behind the South defenders. Conant finished with three first-half shots on goal as Przybylski made a couple of strong saves from point-blank range to keep the deficit at, 1-0.
Przybylski, who made four saves, said a slow start was to be expected in the first game of the season as everyone was getting their bearings with new teammates on something other than a gymnasium floor.
"I noticed that our defense was a little off and our communication needs to improve," the junior goalkeeper said. "In the second half, we started passing better and we'll learn from our mistakes real soon."
Mueller, wanting to get a good look at this team, played every player he had in the match and tried to gauge what combinations worked best.
He might have found some answers. The second half was much more smooth for South, which was able to create some scoring opportunities with its speed on the outside. The Cougars saw a lot of Gators sophomore Brandie Minogue, who raced past defenders often in the second half.
She had three strong scoring chances, but each went wide of the net. Minogue is one of several new additions to the team whom Mueller expects to make a direct impact right away. The forward played travel soccer for most of her life but decided to try track last season, something she always wanted to do.
"We have some exciting new players that I got to see for the first time on the field that we're excited about," Mueller said. "It was a welcome surprise to have Brandie come out this year."
Even while the Gators played tentative at times, still working on playing together, Conant kept three defenders back to counter South's speed after the Gators opened the second half with two strong scoring chances but still couldn't put one past the Cougars goalkeeper Haley Anderson who made four saves.
The Cougars were able to still generate some offense, however, when Mazurek broke free and scored her second goal four minutes into the second half. Conant added to its lead with 7:41 to play to put a Gators comeback out of reach.
The Gators aren't scheduled to play again until March 29 at Schaumburg.
"This one didn't go the way we wanted," Minogue said, "but this season has some good things in store for us."