GRAYSLAKE – The start of the 2023 season included a few twists for Carmel and Grayslake Central on Wednesday night.
Both teams enter the season with high hopes due to an influx of talented returnees. With both teams waiting until Wednesday to kick off the season, the anticipation was high for a memorable match.
The Corsairs, led by the talented forward duo of Chicagoland Soccer All-Staters Emily Fix and Anna Hartman, showed their immense potential and build a 2-0 lead in the 23rd minute. The Corsairs, ranked no. 28 in Chicagoland Soccer First 50 preseason poll, have the makings of an elite team capable of making an extended run in the Class 3A playoffs.
“We came out so strong but we are still working out some kinks,” Carmel coach Stephanie Kile said.
Unfortunately, Grayslake Central played without standout sophomore midfielder Dahlia Rodriguez, one of the top players in the Northern Lake County Conference, due to an illness. Fortunately, the Rams picked up a bit of luck. Their first goal was an unforgettable one, an own-goal, that halved the deficit in minute 28.
Four-plus minutes later, suddenly energized from the shocking goal, junior midfielder and captain Sara Armstrong scored on a looping 30-yard-plus offering from near the Carmel sideline that took a few odd hops before it traveled to the back of the net to tie the game.
“It was perfect,” Grayslake Central coach Keith Andersson said laughing of the own-goal to start his team’s scoring for the season. “That was nice. I haven’t seen that: scoring the first goal of the year that way. It helped us build our momentum. Then we had Sara’s goal. She hit it so hard. I didn’t really know what happened. It bounced and went it. That was perfect too.”
In the end, the Corsairs survived the wacky game, when Hartman knocked in the game-winner in the 61st minute to pull out a hard-fought 3-2 win over the host Rams.
Andersson said the Corsairs (1-0-0) were a good test for his young team to start the season. The Rams (0-1-0) jump right into the fray when travel to no. 11 Deerfield for a 6:45 p.m. match Friday.
The Rams made a big improvement from their last season-opener, a 4-0 home defeat to the Corsairs.
“Carmel is a great team and moves the ball really well,” Andersson said. “They have two amazing strikers. We had our hands full all night long. We literally tried to man mark them out of the game. We just didn’t have enough shots. We had three at halftime. That’s not good enough. We have to do better than that.
“We were missing Dahlia. Hopefully, she will be ready for Deerfield. We’re young. Our freshman, Ava Henne, played out of her mind. She was on the cross country team. She never stopped. We put her on Fix and told her to stick with her.”
Due to a scheduling change, Carmel has little time to digest the victory. They host local rival Mundelein tonight (March 16) at 6:30 p.m. and travel to fifth-ranked New Trier for a 1 p.m. Saturday game. Their revamped lineup will need to grow up fast.
“Our defense is totally new,” Kile said. “Some of them had never played defense before. I converted some attackers to defense. Jillian Miller used to play attacker. Maddie Nikolai was a center mid. Peyton Carney was there (on defense) last year. I tried Bella D’Amore. I’m working out some things, some new formations and new personnel at new spots, so we will see what happens.
“We have some potential. I think once we figure it out and where our personnel will go, we have a lot of potential. We possess very well. We can be a dangerous team. We have some big tests coming up for us.”
Miller, a junior, said she and several Carmel teammates will need some additional time adjusting to different roles this spring.
“A lot of us were trying out new positions,” Miller said. “I was an attacker basically my whole life. This was my first time on defense. A lot of us had to ease into it. Once we settled down and got a lot of our jitters out, we connected after that. You have to get used to having nobody behind you. It’s different, but I like it.”
The difference in the game was Carmel’s outstanding duo of Fix and Hartman. They attacked Grayslake Central’s backline, putting pressure on them all game long with their speed, 1-v-1 skills and powerful shots.
Fix, a Marquette recruit playing in her second year of high school soccer, was all over the field, sending shots toward the net in an attempt to knock out the Rams. She opened up the scoring by drilling home a shot in the 19th minute. Four minutes later, Fix added to her total by scoring a goal off a penalty kick for a 2-0 lead. She drilled a shot off the crossbar in the final minutes of the game to just miss a hat-trick.
“Emily’s energy is amazing,” Kile said. “Emily and Anna just work so well off each other. They are both such hard workers. If we can match both of their composure and hard work, it would be special. They both love the game.”
Fix, who scored 18 goals and tallied eight assists last season, said she’s aiming for a special season in her final year on the Corsairs. She’s on the right track, having having a foot on all the Corsairs' scoring Wednesday.
“It was a good win,” Fix said. “I was able to score thanks to a few good (shots). This was a good team win. We played hard.”
Hartman, a standout guard who played on Carmel’s Class 3A state championship basketball team last year and sectional finalist this season, said she’s enjoying playing soccer with her sister, freshman midfielder Josie. The elder Hartman was limited in her playing time due to a sore knee, but she scored the winning goal, off a perfect cross from Fix.
Hartman, who had 15 goals and 21 assists a season ago and was named Co-East Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year with Benet’s Katie Lewellyan in 2022, tapped in the winning shot from 10 yards in the 61st minute.
“A win is a win,” Hartman said. “We are getting used to some girls playing new positions, and it’s the first game of the season.
“For me, I’m coming back from an injury, so I have limited playing time for the first few games. I’m not used to sitting on the bench, so I got to see the potential. I think we will be really good at keeping possession of the ball this season. We had more passes connecting each other.”
Hartman said Fix set her up perfectly on her winning goal.
“Emily had the cross and the goalie was out, so it was a pretty easy tap-in,” Hartman said.
Grayslake Central showed moxie battling the Corsairs, especially with Rodriguez on the sidelines and a new goalie in the net after the graduation of standout Piper Gallaher. Senior Ella Tews finished with nine saves, including five in the first half.
“Ella had no fear,” Andersson said. “She wasn’t going to even play soccer. We were going to be without a goalie. I begged her. She just went out and played.
“We’re excited about this team. We’ve been inside for three weeks. This is the first full game we’ve played. We have to improve on our passing and fitness. This is a good group of girls.”
Grayslake Central senior defender Katie Dinsmore said the team showed a big improvement from last season’s shutout defeat to Carmel.
“Carmel is a very good team,” Dinsmore said. “They beat us pretty good last year. We’re a young team, and started to pull it together. It was crazy to start the season with an own-goal. It was pretty good to comeback from down 2-0.”
Armstrong, who is a captain along with Dinsmore and Ava Ramsey, said she was shocked to score the tying goal.
“I got free and just tried to cross it in, and it went into the net,” Armstrong said. “Carmel is always such a good team and good competition. We got all excited after tying it at 2-2. We were excited. We can have a really good team this year.”
GK: Abby Tekampe
D: Ema Delgado
D: Bella D’Amore
D: Peyton Carney
D: Jillian Miller
MF: Maddie Nikolai
MF: Madison Konen
MF: Josie Hartman
F: Emily Fix
F: Norah Belmonte
F: Anna Hartman
GK: Ella Tews
D: Avalyn Woods
D: Kate Kruse
D: Katie Dinsmore
D: Hayli Pruitt
MF: Ava Henne
MF: Sara Armstrong
MF: Ava Ramsey
MF: Madison Hoffman
MF: Jordan Sutter
F: Mari Williams
Chicagoland MVP of the Match: Emily Fix, Carmel, sr, F
Carmel: Fix (Konen), 19’
Carmel: Fix (penalty kick), 23’
Grayslake Central: own-goal, 28’
Grayslake Central: Armstrong (unassisted), 32’
Carmel: Anna Hartman (Fix), 61’