CHAMPAIGN — It paid to be punctual Saturday if you were planning to catch the Class 2A regional championship soccer match between Centennial and Urbana.
The couple dozen fans sprinkled about the bleachers at the UI Intramural fields in time for the 1 p.m. kickoff were treated to a pair of quick goals by Katelynn Martinez. The fashionably late folks missed out.
Martinez found the back of the net less than two minutes in and scored again two minutes later on an assist from Grace Ayodele to provide all the offense the Chargers would need in a 4-0 win against the Tigers.
"We just wanted to jump on them early and get a big lead and keep it so they didn't feel like they could come back," Martinez said.
Notching a pair of early tallies proved big for the Chargers, but it's not No. 1 on coach Hsiung Marler's list.
"It's nice, but I'm more concerned with what we do the other 79 minutes," Marler said. "The most important thing is to do the stuff we've been trying to do all year, and hopefully that gets us some offense early in the game. We've got the rest of the game. If we would have let down against Urbana, they would have made us pay."
Centennial (14-4-2) remained aggressive throughout. Dagny Olson scored unassisted in the final minute of the first half to give Centennial a 3-0 lead and Tiege Rice's corner kick early in the second half slipped through the hands of the Urbana goalkeeper to close the scoring.
All of that made life easy on Centennial keeper Hope Archer, who hardly saw any action and enjoyed a stress-free day in net. The Chargers' back line of Meaghan McLennand, Annie Regan, Chantal Meacham and Haley Hollern allowed few scoring opportunities for Urbana (8-8-1).
"Hope's done a good job of staying on task," Marler said. "Our defense has been phenomenal. Last year we won 19, 20 games and we gave up 15 goals. This year we haven't won quite as many and we've only given up seven goals, and four of those were in one game (4-2 loss to Normal Community on April 7). Haley and Chantal, especially, have been lights out shutting people down."
"The last couple of games I've hardly touched the ball. I just focused and have Chantal yell at me sometimes just to keep me in the game," Archer said. "It feels good, but I can't get overconfident that they're always gonna be there. I have to stay on my toes."
Centennial's second straight regional title earned it a sectional semifinal berth against Sacred Heart-Griffin. The Cyclones eliminated the Chargers in last year's sectional semifinal.
"I went and watched them play last night. I watched them upset Springfield 4-2; it was an exciting game," Marler said. "They've got a couple of really good players, two good forwards and good center midfielder, good sweeper. We're looking forward to it. The girls don't know who we're playing, but as soon as I tell them they'll be excited."
"This feels good, and I want to get revenge from last year," Martinez said. "I think when that day comes we'll remember last year and be ready to go."