Grace Berger’s return provided the Grand Island Senior High girls soccer team with a late-season scoring boost.
Berger recorded a hat trick Saturday to help the Islanders extend their season with a 5-0 win over Omaha North in the first round of the Class A, District 3 tournament at Memorial Stadium.
Berger said one thing led to her big day.
“Teamwork is the only thing I can say,” the junior forward said. “We work together. We talked about it and anticipated the goals. It’s just building up and building up.”
The Islanders’ leading scorer Sage McCallum struck twice, including the game winner at 13:27 when she maneuvered around a defender and fired a shot from 20 yards out.
Berger struck for the next three. She took a pass from Leslie Perez Madrid inside the box and crossed up the goalkeeper on a 10-yard shot at 28:51.
Berger completed the hat trick with two goals in the first 3:28 of the second half, and McCallum converted on a late breakaway to cap off the scoring.
Esperanza Viillatoro, Perez Madrid, Guadalupe Hernandez, McCallum and Alyssa Zamarripa all recorded assists.
It was only the second game of the season for Berger, and the Islanders (4-10) won those by a combined 9-0 at home.
“We knew what Grace brings to the team, and it’s tough to not have her for the full season,” G.I. coach Benny Hanaphy said. “She was out with an MCL injury until very recently, and she scored 17 seconds into her return which was huge for her.
“It takes the burden off Sage and gives teams something to think about when they play against us.”
Berger is thrilled to even get an abbreviated season in.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “I’m so thankful I was able to finish out these last couple games. I couldn’t imagine life without soccer.”
Grand Island dominated possession from the start against Omaha North (0-17), which has 13 players on its roster.
That led to the Islanders having to make some adjustments.
“I think we did enough,” Hanaphy said. “I think we could have done better, but it’s an odd position for us to be in. We’re usually the team that’s trying to play on the counter. We’re having our defenders high on the field and making decisions on our front foot. It’s just not something we’re experienced in.”
It’s a positive sign for the Islanders that they can win a match by that score and still want more.
“I think we could have done a lot better, but the way we worked together and were scoring and making a lot of passes was a positive for our team,” Berger said.
Grand Island went 4-1 in its final five home matches of the season.
“It gives them the expectation that they should be winning at home and it’s not something that we should bow down to other teams,” Hanaphy said. “We should go on the front foot and take the fight to them and see what happens instead of play on the back foot and think ‘are we going to get in this game?’ and then you’re 2-0 down when you decide to play. We can play from the first minute.”
The late success helped provide the outgoing seniors with some good memories while giving the returning group confidence for the future.
“We should have some pretty good eighth graders coming in next year too, so even though we’re losing a lot of seniors, we do have a good foundation for this team,” Berger said.
The Islanders face No. 3-rated Lincoln East (13-1) in the A-3 semifinals Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Seacrest Field. The Spartans won the teams’ April 5 meeting 9-0.
Hanaphy said the Islanders need to go in with a nothing-to-lose attitude.
“It’s a huge game,” he said. “We know that Lincoln East is a tough team, but we talked in the locker room that it’s an opportunity to make history. You’ve got no pressure. Just go out there and somehow if you can put together a perfect game, you could pull off the biggest win in program history.”