During the first half of the Loyola and Lake Forest game Thursday that formally kicked off the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic, the fired-up members of the Lake Forest bench shouted: “We want that Malnati trophy.”
The pieces are in place for the 5th annual edition a deep field; high-level college prospects; historically strong programs; and multi-IHSA Class competition.
It all adds up.
“This is a tournament that brings together top-level players, teams, and coaching staffs who love to compete and have fun doing it,” said Jim Burnside, New Trier’s coach and the tournament host.
“Every team will be challenged, which results in growth for teams and players, and the ultimate goal is having fun and preparing for the postseason.”
The 0-0 tie between no. 25 Loyola and Lake Forest set a strong standard for the tournament.
The tournament is composed of three, four-team groups.
Half of the 12-team team field is ranked in the current Top 25 poll exclusive to Chicagoland Soccer.
No. 4 Lyons, no. 7 New Trier and no. 9 Evanston head the field. Libertyville (16th), Naperville North (17th) and Loyola have their sites set on a strong tournament.
Four other historically strong programs reside in the poll honorable mention listing: Lane; Glenbrook South; Lake Forest; and Stevenson.
St. Francis and Grayslake Central, round out the field and use the tournament as a springboard for success in Class AA.
The groups break down as follows:
The format is direct: each team is guaranteed three games in their group play. The finalists will play five games; the other teams will play four.
The three group play winners and a wild card team make up the semifinal bracket.
The fourth edition of the Classic produced co-champions Lyons and Loyola, which both came out of Group C.
Lyons was the group winner and Loyola the wild card. Lyons beat Naperville North in a penalty shootout, and Loyola upset Stevenson.
Weather caused the cancellation of the tournament championship game, and the teams split the title when a suitable make-up date for both could not be found.
The teams know what their in for at the Deep Dish Classic.
“We’ve had some great games against great teams in past years,” Lyons coach Bill Lanspeary said.
“We have found it really gives you a great experience as you move into the later part of the season and the state playoffs.”
After Loyola and Lake Forest played an early game in order to accommodate the Ramblers’ spring break, the tournament begins in earnest Saturday with doubleheaders at Evanston and New Trier.
Naperville North plays the Wildkits, and St. Francis and Libertyville follow.
At New Trier, the Trevians host Grayslake Central and Stevenson and Lane dual in the second game.
Lyons plays at Glenbrook South at noon Saturday.
Like all great tournaments, the results are a predictor of future actions.
Evanston stunned top ranked Libertyville in last year’s group play. The teams met again in a Class 3A supersectional where Evanston prevailed en route to a fourth place state finish.
Loyola and Evanston met in a sectional final. Evanston and New Trier played in the sectional semifinal.
“We look forward to (the Malnati’s) every year,” Loyola coach Shannon Hartinger said.
“The opportunity to continue to push ourselves against top teams is always part of our season plan.”
Lane captured its historic seventh-consecutive city tournament championship last spring.
The Champions were hamstrung last year by the city spring break that caused multiple starters to miss games.
The city schedule aligned this season, and the team is expected to be at full strength.
“This is an opportunity for the returning players to have a better showing than last year,” new Lane coach Robert Harkness said.
“It’s a great test for our many new players, and gives them the opportunity to know the bar that we are expecting to reach as a program.”
Naperville North and Lyons each qualified for a sectional championship game in 2022.
“Every season we look forward as a program to getting a chance to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the state,” Naperville North coach Steve Goletz said.
“So many premier programs participate that you know you are going to get quality games no matter the turnover of rosters year to year.”
All teams are guaranteed to host at least one pool match.
“I always tell our players it’s a great experience to gat a chance to play multiple tough games against well-coached, well-organized teams,” Goletz said.
“It is the closest thing to a playoff experience that we can replicate early on.”
The tournament is also the opening salvo of a two-pronged assault. Many of the same teams are involved in the Naperville Invitational.
These two events are arguably the toughest Chicago-based tournaments of the regular-season.
They mean something.
After losing to Lyons in the semifinal shootout, Naperville North captured the rematch in the semifinals of the Naperville Invitational.
Then, the Huskies beat eventual state-runnerup Barrington in double overtime in the championship game of that tournament.
One flows beautifully into the other.
“No matter how the results end up over the next week, we are confident it is going to help guide us through the middle part of the season on things we need to improve on, and highlight and give some confidence of what has worked well so far,” Goletz said.