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Girls Soccer: O’Conner, Alsheikh lead Sandburg in conference-clinching win over Lockport

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By Steve Millar 
Correspondent

As a four-year starter at defender, Erin O’Connor has been a rock on the back line for Sandburg her entire high school career.

“She’s just so reliable,” Sandburg coach Tom Kubowicz said. “She’s a great leader back there, she’s dependable and she’s just so solid. We know what we’re going to get from her every game. We know she’s going to shut the other team down.”

O’Connor is also a standout basketball player for the Eagles.

“It’s good because I’m in shape already, but obviously they’re completely different sports, using my hands in one and my feet in the other,” O’Connor said. “It can be a hard adjustment. It was especially tough with the COVID season my sophomore year. I didn’t play soccer for two years, so it was hard getting back into it.

“I just like competing. I’m a very competitive person. I like to win. I like to be surrounded by my teammates.”

O’Connor helped Sandburg record another shutout May 5 and seal the SouthWest Suburban Blue championship with a win over Lockport. The host Eagles won the penalty-kick shootout 5-4 in six rounds to earn a 1-0 victory over the Porters.

Sandburg (10-8, 4-0) prevailed in unlikely circumstances, with multiple starters missing the game for various reasons and despite an 11-1 disadvantage in shots on goal.

“I was so proud of how we faced that adversity,” O’Connor said. “We’ve faced adversity all season long. We’ve had people in and out of the lineup. I was so happy with how we were able to adjust, shut them out, come out for PKs with people who don’t normally take PKs and find a way to win. I was so proud of the team.”

One of the players out was senior defender Rosie Richardson, another four-year starter and O’Connor’s defensive partner throughout her career.

“We had to switch up our whole defense without Rosie and girls stepped up so big to get this win,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor, Kayla Siefert, Sydney Gunkel and Grace Pittacora led the defense for the Eagles, with Siefert — a freshman — stepping into Richardson’s normal center back spot.

“It’s a testament to the team’s will to win,” Kubowicz said. “Kayla going into Rosie’s spot, those aren’t easy shoes to fill. She made some big plays.”

Senior goalkeeper Guevara Alsheikh also had a huge night, making 11 saves.

O’Connor made arguably the biggest play of the game when she got her body in the way of a shot that was ticketed for the back of the net in overtime.

After Alsheikh made a save on a shot from Lockport’s Anna Domina, the Porters’ Megan Posmer got the rebound and had a seemingly wide open chance for the game-winner with Alsheikh out of position.

O’Connor, though, blocked the shot.

“If someone makes a remarkable play out there, there’s a good chance it was Erin,” Kubowicz said. “That was another huge play from her.”

Lockport coach Todd Elkei agreed.

“That non-goalie save was the play of the game,” Elkei said. “That was one of the best plays I’ve seen all year.”

In the shootout, Gabby Dittmer, O’Connor, Maeve Durkin and Rudana Hamadeh converted penalty kicks for the Eagles before senior Mary Gallagher came through with the game-winner in the sixth round.

“Mary was feeling under the weather, so she wasn’t out there in the second half and overtime,” Kubowicz said. “The girls all wanted her to take the PK and she stepped up and buried it. She’s one of the nicest kids. She works so hard. No one deserves it more than her.”

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