CHICAGO — In the crisp night air, with beguiling architecture and vertiginous buildings forming the perfect backdrop, the best city rivalry in girls sports returned.
Lane at Young in an early season clash felt strangely peculiar, especially as an out-of-conference game in the aftermath of the enlargement and realignment of the Chicago Public League’s Premier Division. It moved from one eight-team group into two geographically arranged six-team groups this season.
Another significant structural change came in the teams’ rosters.
Since their legendary city championship game last May, a 2-1 Lane victory, the programs’ rosters have radically shuffled in the wake of heavy graduation losses.
Young lost 13 seniors, most significantly three-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State forward Ella Koleno, her twin sister Sydney Koleno, two-time CS All-State midfielder Alexis Sassower and Butler recruit Daphne Murray.
Lane added a change at the top with new coach Robert Harkness. He takes over the program from Michelle Vale, who is now an assistant principal at Lake View.
The recently nicknamed Champions also graduated two Chicagoland Soccer All-State talents in scoring standout Scout Murray and defensive playmaker Jocelyn Ramirez.
An offensive spark was missing from both teams in the first week. Neither team scored a goal in their first three games.
“We’ve hit four crossbars, and we have been incredibly unlucky so far,” junior Young midfielder Lauren Roche said.
Lane (1-2-1), which was ranked no. 32 in the First 50 poll opened with a scoreless tie against no. 14 Loyola and suffered tough 1-0 defeats against then unranked but current Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 no. 23 St. Ignatius and 15th-ranked Glenbrook North.
“I think we just needed to clean up some rust from last season,” junior Lane midfielder Kristi Sevova said.
“We created a lot of good opportunities against those teams that we carried over to the game today.”
Sevova made the 13th minute a lucky one with her finish of a beautiful breakaway off a counter that powered the Champions’ 2-0 victory before a standing-room-only crowd of approximately 200 people Friday night.
Sevova began last season as the youngest starter on a stacked and veteran team.
She showed exceptional promise with her excellent combination of size, footwork, speed and ability to create off the dribble.
Off a Young corner kick, she created her own counter movement and got to the edge before finishing from about 14 yards.
“My only thoughts as I got closer to the goal was ‘Please don’t miss,’” Sevova said.
“We have definitely not had the best start to our season, but our heads are still held high. It feels great to get a goal against an especially good team.”
Kristi Sevova earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match distinction for her play.
A year ago, Roche had a breakout game with two goals in the Dolphins’ 3-0 regular-season victory at Lane. It marked the Champions first loss to a city school in seven years.
That memory still burned Lane a spring later.
“We definitely wanted that revenge today, especially on their home field,” Sevova said. “We did get the win in the city title game, but I am sure we will be seeing them again.”
Roche and the youngest Koleno sister, sophomore forward Moira, are the only returning offensive starters from the city and regional finalist that won the Premier Division last year.
Goals have not materialized. The Lane game was more of the same, though the effort was clearly there.
“Honestly, it has been tough. We have not scored any goals,” Roche said.
“Our defense has been super solid, and our midfield has been great. We are just working out the final pieces. I think it’s only going to go up from here, because we have shown we have the talent.”
A free kick specialist last year, Roche also scored the Dolphins’ goal in a memorable 2-1 loss to Lane before an estimated crowd of 1,100 in the 2022 city championship game.
“We have the offensive capability,” she said. “We just have to figure some things out.”
The whole tenor of the game changed in the closing minutes of the first half.
Young (0-2-2) created its most dangerous moment with some concentrated pressure just outside the box that induced a Lane foul.
Off the free kick, on the right side about away, Roche and forward Cassie Schumacher addressed the ball.
Roche executed a deft fake, and Schumacher blasted a left-footed ball that clipped the underside of the bar and danced near the goal line.
Rather than it becoming Young's equalizer, Lane got the clearance.
The Champions delivered the backbreaker in the closing seconds.
The pressure of forward Avery Ellis created a corner opportunity from the left.
As time moved inside of seven seconds, midfielder Grace Carman took the short corner and made a near desperate volley into the box.
The hero of the city title victory last year with that remarkable blast from about 40 yards, Rau smashed in the header as the first half clock turned to zeroes.
“At first, we put it on the wrong side of the corner, and everybody was screaming, but we got it off,” Carman said. “We have been practicing (corners) a lot.”
Carman and defender Olive Tinucci were called up to the varsity last year at the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic as freshmen reinforcements.
They became featured players by the end of the season. Now they are half of four sophomore starters.
“We’ve had some tough openings games, but I think we’re finding ourselves and style as a team,” Carman said.
“It’s been really different from last year after losing Scout, Dale (Sink) and Maya (Martinez Bates), but we’re finding our style, and hopefully the momentum is going to find our way now.”
The header by Rau was not as consequential as her game-winner in the city final, but it
functioned as the ostensible knockout blow.
Given Young had gone 280 minutes of game time without scoring, the tw- goal differential made the lead feel a mile deep.
“I think that made us a lot more comfortable,” Rau said.
“We started playing and connecting more, and I think we intimidated them in a way that I think got them down a bit and frustrated them.”
A Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List player, Rau is the top returning scorer from last year’s team. She had 11 goals and eight assists.
Her balance, footwork, poise and savvy inject a different rhythm in the attack. She brings a solidity and sharpness.
“I’ve gone from being the goofy younger one on the team to now I have to be the one who steps up and makes sure that practice is more intense and stuff like that,” Rau said.
“It’s definitely a different type of role, almost like being the bad cop, but I am enjoying it, and making sure we always bring the intensity.”
Young’s scoreless streak now stands at 320 minutes.
The Dolphins played sharper and more aggressively in the second half.
They had stretches of superior play, creating better flow and movement of the ball.
“It kind of comes down to who wants the ball,” Koleno said. “At halftime, we just said we really need to put in that effort and want the ball.
“I felt throughout the second half we showed that a lot more, even if we didn’t get the result that we wanted. It’s been a rebuilding year, but we are giving our effort, and we just hope to do better in the future.”
Scoring is the hardest part of the game.
Progress does not always move in a direct line. Young is working through the complications.
“I think we’ve had a lot of chances, but it is just in the final third that we have to be a little more clinical,” Roche said.
Midfielder Sonia Liew, Schumacher, Roche and Koleno have clearly shown signs.
The Dolphins also started slowly last year.
“We’ve been really close, and I feel like our team chemistry is getting better each time we practice,” Roche said.
“Right now it’s all about improving, and making sure that we give it our all in every game.”
GK: Siena Belko
D: Eleanor Nagle
D: Olivia Schmitt
D: Olive Tinucci
D: Alyssa LoVerde
MF: Jessica Carlson
MF: Kristiyana Sevova
MF: Grace Carman
F: Jackson Caffey
F: May Rau
F: Avery Ellis
GK: Marcela Matallana
D: Kate Sweitzer
D: Asinley Christensen
D: Celeste Garton
D: Cassie Reyna-Demes
MF: Lauren Roche
MF: Sonia Liew
MF: Hollis VanDormeid
F: Evelyn Vaughn
F: Cassie Schumacher
F: Moira Koleno
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Kristi Sevova, jr., MF, Lane
Lane—Kristi Sevova (unassisted), 13th minute
Lane—Mary Rau (Grace Carman), 40th minute