Maroons, Chargers set for title matchup | Sports | news-gazette.com – The News-Gazette

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A few clouds. Low near 55F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: May 15, 2024 @ 8:14 pm
Champaign Central teammates Halle Youse, middle, and Rylie Schulze turn away as Centennial’s Evelyn Hernandez-Ruiz makes contact with the ball on Sunday afternoon during the final match of the second annual C-U Girls’ Soccer Showcase at Demirjian Park in Champaign. The Maroons held on for a 4-3 victory against the rival Chargers.

Champaign Central teammates Halle Youse, middle, and Rylie Schulze turn away as Centennial’s Evelyn Hernandez-Ruiz makes contact with the ball on Sunday afternoon during the final match of the second annual C-U Girls’ Soccer Showcase at Demirjian Park in Champaign. The Maroons held on for a 4-3 victory against the rival Chargers.
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URBANA — It took about 15 minutes for Centennial’s 3-0 win over Urbana to take shape on Tuesday night.
But Evelyn Hernandez-Ruiz’s goal with 25:45 remaining in the first half of a Class 2A girls’ soccer regional semifinal was the turning point for the Chargers, who will face Champaign Central on Friday with a regional plaque on the line.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a hard-fought battle from the start,” Centennial coach Thair Al-Saqri said. “This one was really our defense that set the tone. Lily Kelly, Kris Kregel and Evelyn, who was one of our goal scorers … we really knew who to key for them.”
Mailyn Hernandez-Ruiz and Payton Kaiser added goals to help the Chargers some 40 minutes after the Maroons cruised past Danville in a 7-0 decision in the first half of a doubleheader at McKinley Field in Urbana.
Centennial’s lead was 2-0 at the halftime break after Mailyn Hernandez-Ruiz added a goal of her own with 13:48 remaining in the half.
“We all came out with the right energy and started off with the right energy,” Kaiser said. “Everyone gave 110 percent and that’s how we got our result, so proud of our team.”
A strong start from the sisters on a cool, breezy evening helped the Chargers draw within one victory of their first regional championship since 2017.
“We’re a family in the field and outside the field,” Evelyn Hernandez-Ruiz said. “It was a special moment, it was our first sister goal.”
The halftime score remained for the first seven minutes of the second half, when Payton Kaiser rolled a shot into the net with 33:10 remaining to extend Centennial’s lead to three goals.
Urbana was unable to muster a comeback bid down the stretch on its home field.
“That third goal helped us calm down and focus on what we needed to do after that,” Al-Saqri said.
Much of the crowd assembled in the middle portion of McKinley Field’s bleachers was clad in blue; some sporting blankets, hoodies and windbreakers. One fan among the Centennial faithful had a large Chargers flag in tow.
“Our boys’ team and our girls’ teams are very closely connected,” Al-Saqri said. “We’ve really built Centennial up into becoming a soccer team. This is our first double-digit win season in about ten years, I believe, so we’re getting to that plateau where Centennial soccer was back 10 or 15 years ago.”
Earlier, the Maroons dispatched their semifinal opponent Danville with relative ease.
Central relied on goals from Cricket Wagner, Rylie Schulze, Sophia Adams and Caroline Blount en route to the regional championship game, with Wagner recording a hat trick and Schulze recording the Maroons’ first two scores.
“I think we just came in with good, high intensity,” Adams said. “We didn’t came in thinking we were going to win. We came in knowing that we had to play the game that we know how to play to win. That’s how we like to come into every game.”
Danville goalkeeper Esmereleda Sparnight-Ocampo kept the Vikings in the game throughout the first half, holding the Maroons to a single goal from Rylie Schulze in the opening 18 minutes.
But the Maroons broke the game open after a 30-yard strike from Schulze found the upper left corner of the goal to boost Central’s lead to 2-0 with 21:10 to play, a score that was soon followed by a Sophia Adams one-placed goal and two goals from Cricket Wagner in the final five minutes of the half.
“We haven’t played a game in over a week and a half, so just getting back into the rhythm of not practicing against each other and having to play opponents takes a little bit of time,” Central coach Steve Whiteley said. “Once we got going, it was what we look for and you get the goals we got.”
Sparnight-Ocampo arrived at 300 saves on the season during the contest despite having missed two weeks of the season due to injury.
“We couldn’t ask for any better, she kept us in the game,” Danville coach Ron Sillings said. “Last game, we kind of got the mercy rule, so our goal was to hang in there as long as we could. … We’re only losing two seniors so next year we grow and the year after that, it’s going to be even better.”
Corner kicks facilitated goals from Caroline Blount and Wagner in the first five minutes of the second half to ensure the Maroons would appear in a regional final for the fourth consecutive season.
A contingent of Maroons stayed around to scout the meeting between the Chargers and the Tigers.
“I’m so excited,” Wagner said. “It’s just a great feeling to be back in the championship for the fourth year straight. It’s really nice.”

“The fans bring a lot of intensity and want to win that crosstown rivalry game and want to be able to say we’re the best girls’ soccer team in Champaign”

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