CHAMPAIGN — It's been such a rough season from a health standpoint for the Centennial girls' soccer team, the Chargers' mascot is even nursing wounds.
"I'm not kidding you, we've got this stuffed-animal duck and it's got tape, bandages, stitches all over it," Chargers coach Hsiung Marler said. "The mascot is injured, that's how banged up we are."
Chantal Meacham, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, has been out all season with an injury, and as many as five starters have been missing from matches for the Chargers. But in Wednesday's 3-2 come-from-behind win against rival Champaign Central, Meaghan McLennand epitomized what the Chargers have gone through recently. Twice the senior left the match to tend to a nagging Achilles' tendon injury — and twice she returned to the pitch to deliver goals.
Central led 2-0 after Maddy Chalifoux and Hannah Walker scored seven minutes apart early in the second half.
McLennand brought the Chargers (9-8-3) to within one a couple of minutes later, and Katelynn Martinez tied it up less than a minute after that.
McLennand connected again minutes after coming off the bench to score what would be the game-winner.
"I thought I was going to sit the rest of the game," said McLennand, who just missed recording a hat trick with 30 seconds remaining. "But, my sister (Micaela) is the goalkeeper coach for Central and that fired me up and so does playing against Central.
"It's my senior year; I wanted to score against them and beat them. That was on my bucket list."
Central (10-8) appeared to be in control until goalkeeper Laura Horvat went down with a knee injury. The Maroons were ahead 2-0 when she left. Horvat didn't return.
"With Laura going down, I think that was a big factor. As soon as she went out, we conceded two goals," Central coach Mick Galeski said. "In a rivalry like this, you can't do that, but we've got a young team and we learned a lot. We learned about closing games out."
There's a good chance these rivals, who each wore pink-colored uniforms and raised money toward cancer research, will meet again in two weeks in a Class 2A regional final. Host Centennial is the No. 2 seed; Central is the No. 1.
"I would hope we can see them again. As far as playing, I thought we dominated most of the game," Galeski said. "I thought (Centennial's) Martinez and Grace (Ayodele) were fantastic. Controlling the game is not enough for us. We've been in just about every game we've been in, and you've got to find a way to finish."
Said Marler: "We played our best game, and they played their best game. We were lucky enough to come out ahead in this one. If we play them again, we'll see if we can do the same thing."