Kelli Zickert’s strike propels Buffalo Grove into Pepsi final

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Kelli Zickert is the worst person to ask to appraise her own talents. She is an explosive scorer though guarded and unprepossessing about her staggering accomplishments.

“I’m not very big and I’m not very fast, so I have to do other things, like beat you with movement and cutting,” she said.

The Buffalo Grove junior midfielder just makes plays.

She scored her 19th goal of the year in the 22nd minute that catapulted the No. 6 Bison to a thrilling 1-0 victory over previously-unbeaten No. 3 New Trier in the semifinals of the Pepsi Showdown at Olympic Park in Schaumburg Saturday.

“She’s one of those players who makes great runs on the ball,” New Trier coach Jim Burnside said. “She doesn’t need much space and then she is just uncanny in how she comes up at that the most inopportune time to make a play against you.”

Zickert punched the Bison’s ticket to a championship appearance next Sunday, April 21st, at Toyota Park against No. 2 Plainfield North. The third-seed Bison qualified for the title game in the program’s first ever appearance.

“We always want to get that early goal, especially against a team like New Trier, because we knew they were going to come out really hard in the first five minutes,” Zickert said.

Junior midfielder Skyler Groth recorded the assist. “Jessica Kovatch delivered a great through ball, and I just saw the moment developing and I was able to get the ball to Kelli,” Groth said.

Zickert controlled the ball and drilled a left-footed blast from about 12 yards out that caught the inside of the right corner of the net. “This is great,” she said of the school’s Pepsi Showdown debut.

Despite playing its third game in as many days, Buffalo Grove (12-0-1) was sharp and fluid against the Trevians.

“We did a great job of possessing the ball, keeping the ball on the ground, getting that one touch, which is our style,” Zickert said. “And [sophomore keeper] Sarah [O’Connor] made some great saves for us.”

O’Connor stopped a 14-yard blast by New Trier senior midfielder Maddy McGinnis off a corner kick in the 73rd minute that constituted one of the Trevians’ best scoring opportunities. New Trier (8-1-1) generated four corner kicks in the second half. Buffalo Grove solved each one. Trevian sophomore defender Caroline Smith also drilled a 16-yarder that O’Connor snared.

Buffalo Grove’s edge in possession time denied any significant Trevian offensive thrusts, especially late.

Burnside said the team’s difficulties stemmed on the defensive side. “Today our problem was we didn’t defend very well, and when you don’t defend, it’s very hard to create transition opportunities and score,” he said.

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