NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- A well-planned flick, a perfectly timed volley and a shot as picturesque as anything Beckham ever bent.
Stack those together, and you get an insurmountable lead and the opportunity to defend your state championship.
That's all the Quincy Notre Dame girls soccer players wanted.
The Raiders used a series of memorable shots to build a three-goal lead in the first half Friday night, and the strong play of Madison L. Meyer in goal preserved the shutout in a 4-0 victory over Belleville Althoff in the Class 1A state semifinals at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
"I was worried about that game more than any other, honestly," sophomore midfielder Maddie Peters said. "That was a hard game to get through. We tied them earlier in the season, and we knew they were going to play.
"We just had to play harder."
QND (25-3-2) will face Winnetka North Shore Country Day at 5 p.m. Saturday in the state championship game. North Shore Country Day (16-4) advanced with a 1-0 double-overtime victory over Chicago University.
Don't expect the pressure to finish the Raiders' title pursuit to bother them.
"My nerves are kind of out of it because we were here last year," said senior midfielder Olivia Dreyer, who scored QND's first two goals. "This game, I really didn't have nerves like I did last year. That's what helped us get started."
It didn't take long to get going.
Five minutes into the game off a Taylor Keck throw-in from the left sideline, Dreyer ran into the box, flicked a header that bounced and took a big hop over Althoff keeper Rachel Monken and into the net for a 1-0 lead. The play was designed by QND coach Mark Longo in the pre-game, although it didn't work quite the way they had planned.
"Right at the beginning of the game, Longo told me to go in on a throw and run and maybe get a foul out of it," Dreyer said. "It ended up going right to my head, and I flicked it on. Somehow it went over the keeper's hands."
It changed the game entirely.
"If we can get a goal, we turn into a different team," Longo said. "We're a good team before we score, but once we get one, it's like we relax and the pressure's off, and then we can get after it."
It's exactly what the Raiders did.
QND sophomore midfielder Morgan Evans drove the ball into the penalty area on a free kick from 50 yards out. Dreyer pinned a marking back to create good position and redirected the ball with a mid-air volley that went into the side net for a 2-0 lead in the 11th minute.
"It was in my head the whole time, 'Don't miss this. Don't miss this,'" Dreyer said. "The last game, I missed a perfect one just like that. So it's just the best feeling when it went in."
Maddie Peters experienced similar euphoria in the 28th minute.
Althoff failed to successfully clear the ball, and sophomore Meredith Siebers helped force the ball back to Maddie Peters on the right wing about 25 yards out. She ripped a shot that had the perfect arc, sailing over Monken and into the upper corner of the net for a 3-0 lead.
"I honestly didn't think it went in," Peters said. "I thought it went over. Once everyone started running to me, I knew I had scored. But it was a good hustle play by Meredith to play it back to me."
Her teammates were awed by the beauty of the shot.
"It was insane," Dreyer said.
It was a back-breaker for the Crusaders.
"At that point, the game is almost out of reach," Althoff coach Juergen Huettner said. "We had a chance to make it 3-1 just before halftime and you hope that would give you a spark, but it just didn't happen."
Althoff's Sophia Monken hit a shot in the closing minutes of the first half that Meyer was forced to save near the left post. The rebound got away from her, and the Crusaders popped a shot off the crossbar that caromed down in front of the goal.
Meyer scrambled to cover it. It allowed QND to lead 3-0 at halftime.
"It made us confident and actually made us play even harder," Dreyer said. "It made us comfortable so we could play our game rather than getting nervous about it being 0-0 or 1-0."
Hannah Peters finished the scoring in the 60th minute. A long throw-in got knocked around in the box and bounced to Peters, who buried a shot from the top of the penalty for a 4-0 advantage.
That was more than enough for a team that has shut out a school-record 22 opponents this season.
"One more would be nice," Meyer said.
Class 1A semifinals
Quincy Notre Dame 4, Belleville Althoff 0
15 Shots 9
1 Saves 9
3 Corners 4
13 Fouls 7
0 Offsides 0
Althoff 0 0--0
QND 3 1--4
Q--Olivia Dreyer (Taylor Keck), 5:00
Q--Dreyer (Morgan Evans), 11:00
Q--Maddie Peters (unassisted), 28:00
Q--Hannah Peters (unassisted), 60:00