SOUTH HOLLAND | When members of Illiana Christian's soccer team were running sprints back in February, it was to prepare them for days like Friday.
Washington defenders were able to use their speed to keep the Vikings' forwards in check at the beginning of Friday's Class 2A Illiana Christian Regional championship match at Paarlberg Park. But as the match wore on, the Patriots' legs wore down.
Illiana, meanwhile, maintained its tempo and cruised to a 7-0 victory to secure the regional title.
The Vikings scored twice in the first 30 minutes -- on a penalty kick and a shot from 30 yards out by senior midfielder Erinn Behn -- but their forwards had been unable to shake free. But in the 34th minute, Behn found Sarah Witvoet on a long ball from beyond midfield, and Witvoet capitalized, putting Illiana up 3-0.
"It seemed like they were starting to get a little tired at that point," Behn said of the Patriots. "And (conditioning) is very much one of our strong points. We ran a lot at the beginning of the season. We still run a lot."
The difference in the two teams' conditioning was even more evident in the second half, when Witvoet raced past the defense to score her second goal on a breakaway and Behn notched her third after outmaneuvering two Washington defenders.
"I think we just outlasted them, and then we sort of took it to them there at the end," Illiana coach A.J. Turkstra said.
Freshmen Annie Brucer and Emma Pawlowski each added goals in the second half to put the mercy rule in effect. The Vikings' defense, however, still faced more second-half pressure than it had seen at any point in the regional.
In an attempt to get on the scoreboard, Washington coach Al Perez brought junior captain Miriam Moreno up from defender to midfield, and eventually forward. The Patriots had chances, but each time the Vikings' defense held strong.
"We knew they were going to pull No. 7 (Moreno) up because she's good and she's quick," Illliana defender Jessie Goren said. "We can sometimes get into some bad habits in games where we don't see enough pressure, so I think that might have been good for us."
The win sends Illiana to the Class 2A Lincoln-Way West Sectional, where it will take on the winner of today's Tinley Park-Rich South matchup. If the seeds hold, the Vikings would face the Titans on Wednesday, the team that eliminated them on penalty kicks in last year's regional final.
"We've been looking forward to seeing Tinley Park for a long time," Turkstra said. "If it's Tinley Park, we can't wait."