NORTHFIELD — The best teams adapt to the moment.
Great teams typically discover inventive ways of diversifying their talent, or they concentrate it to push it to a new level.
New Trier passed the eye test in its showdown with unbeaten Lyons. Throughout the first half the Trevians were faster to the ball, more connected in the attack and generally more dangerous.
But Lyons dug in and always found its counter, in ways both subtle and profound. Then the player with the affectionate nickname of “Morty” took over.
Caroline Mortonson made another daunting charge, and in doing so issued a bold declaration of being the state’s best sophomore, with a remarkable play. Her combination of size, speed, playmaking and shot-creation delivered a wondrous moment.
The Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater has presence and feel. When New Trier made an uncharacteristic mistake. Mortonson made them pay.
“I felt like the start of the second half, just like at the beginning of the game, I was almost afraid to shoot, and I was just passing,” she said. “I just decided to run and see how far I could go without them stopping me.”
Mortonson wove through the New Trier back and hammered a laser from 21 yards in the 52nd minute that propelled the third-ranked Lions’ riveting 1-0 victory over no. 5 New Trier in the second semifinal of the 5th annual Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic on Thursday night.
Lyons (9-0-0) maintained its remarkable start to the season by posting its ninth-consecutive shutout; the team boasts a 27-0 goal-differential on the year.
The Lions will meet no. 7 Evanston in the final at 3 p.m. Saturday in Northfield. The Wildkits defeated 23rd-ranked Stevenson 4-0 in the first semifinal.
New Trier saw its nine-game winning and 10-game unbeaten streaks snapped.
“I thought the game was really back and forth, and we stuck with them a lot,” New Trier All-Stater Lida Dodge said. “We showed what we could do, and we had our chances.
“We just couldn’t put any of them away.”
The format of the tournament is unforgiving. Both teams played their third game in four days, and fourth game since the start of group play April 8.
To earn its semifinal spot, New Trier needed a Dodge goal and later assist on a corner to deliver a 3-2 comeback victory over Lane on Wednesday.
“I thought we did a great job with our pressure in the first half, but it’s hard trying to do that for a whole game,” All-State forward Josie Noble said.
New Trier played without a significant piece in two-way standout Annie Paden, who sat for precautionary reasons after getting hit hard in the Lane game.
Lyons also had a star on the bench. Forward Katie O’Malley was unavailable after she was issued a “soft red card,” after two yellow cards in the 3-0 victory over no. 25 Loyola on Wednesday night.
O’Malley has a remarkable 12 assists this far and has posted at least one assist in seven-of-the-eight games she has played.
She is also tied for the team lead in goals with midfielder Niamh Griffin at five.
New Trier (10-1-1) showed tremendous range and a varied, dynamic attack with Dodge as the centerpiece and lead orchestrator. She was capably supported by the pincer actions of Noble, Nora Westol and Sybil Evans.
The Trevians had the clear advantage through the first half in time of possession and quality of play.
It just did not translate into actionable results.
“They had some good saves,” Dodge said. “We didn’t put away our chances.”
Previously Lyons featured the state’s best keeper in two-time All-Stater and current Illinois player Izzy Lee. In her absence, Lyons has alternated senior Sarah Schinker and sophomore Nora Ezike this season.
Schinker started and made three saves.
Ezike played the second half and was immediately called on to step up after Dodge was awarded a free kick on the right edge.
Dodge blasted the ball from 22 yards; Ezike stabbed it out of the air.
Athletic, rangy and very skilled, Lyons center back Chandlar Lay is a converted forward. Her play has been a revelation and helped solidify a gifted, skilled defense.
“Moving positions has been different, but it’s easier for me to step up to the ball, because I have the forward mindset,” Lay said.
“If I have to dribble through players that comes easier for me.”
Lay and Brennan Israel play the middle with Caroline McKenna and Avery Wengerd on the outside.
Brennan Israel is the only returning starter.
“I feel like we all had to try working together and understand where each other’s strengths are, and just keep pushing each other to do our best.”
Izzi Wirtz is another dynamic two-way talent who has the ability to play in the middle or push back as a fifth defender.
Her play as a holding midfielder helped neutralize the Trevians, especially in slowing down Dodge and denying channels for players like Noble and Lauren Caldwell.
“We attack as a team, and we defend as a team,” Wirtz said. “From all three positions on the field, everybody defends really hard. We know Izzy’s not here anymore, but we have two amazing keepers behind us, and we are trusting them to do their job when it comes time. That has been really important.”
Lyons seized control with sharper actions, quicker movements to the ball and faster decisions.
Niamh Griffin is second on the Lions’ scoring list with her five goals and now two assists. Setting up Mortonson, she broke down the Trevians and slotted the ball on the left wing just outside the 40-yard line.
While Mortonson did much of the work, Griffin provided the important set-up.
“I felt like in the first half, we were still trying to find our footing after a hard game last night and having just nine field players (due to the soft red card),” Griffin said.
“We were getting our energy back. We had an extra tank in that second half, and we were able to push through and have the connecting passes.”
Mortonson captured the perfect angle, pushing left and then drilling her shot against the grain inside the far post.
“We found our footing in the second half,’ Griffin said.
Lyons had been so dominant in its possession, its previous opposition had limited chances to even build an attack.
But New Trier was different.
The Trevians took up the challenge of fighting from behind. Dodge was dynamic, as usual, and Lyons kept an eye on her.
“We always had to make sure that somebody was covering her in case she was able to make her run,” Lay said.
New Trier had some tantalizing moments, like Westol going unnoticed and getting to an open spot inside the box.
Her shot in the 72nd minute took a weird hop and bounded over the top of the bar. Noble and Caldwell each had shots, near the 74-minute mark, that the 6-foot tall Ezike was able to control them.
Lyons' forward Peyton Israel took advantage of the absence of O’Malley to provide some solid and highly athletic play at the top of the formation. She balanced Mortonson, and was able to get a couple of strong shots off.
New Trier keeper Caroline Hague was also superb, registering six saves.
Despite the bittersweet result, New Trier was elated at returning to the championship bracket as the host program.
“We hadn’t lost yet, so I guess this is just taking it and learning to move forward,” Dodge said. “I think we can learn a lot from this game.”
Ne Trier's end was far from ideal, the level of play had much to recommend.
Neither team will get much of a breather, tournament-wise. Both move directly to the start of group play in the Naperville Invitational, which begins April 20.
Lyons enters the Malnati's title match as the defending champion, of sorts. After the Lions defeated Naperville North in a shootout to earn a championship game bid last spring, weather and then logistics prevented the deciding match vs. Loyola. The teams were declared co-champs.
Naperville North won the rematch en route to the championship of the Naperville Invitational.
New Trier gets a break from game-play this weekend.
“I am glad we got to experience the loss before the playoffs,” Noble said. “You don’t want your first loss to be in the playoffs. Now we know how to deal with it, and bounce back.”
GK: Sara Schinker
D: Caroline McKenna
D: Brennan Israel
D: Chandlar Lay
D: Avery Wengerd
MF: Izzi Wirtz
MF: Josie Pochocki
MF: Carolina Capizzi
MF: Niamh Griffin
F: Caroline Mortonson
F: Peyton Israel
GK: Caroline Hague
D: Honor Dold
D: Lydia Vassalo
D: Clara Deliduka
D: Kennedy Colegrove
MF: Sofia Palmer
MF: Lauren Caldwell
MF: Lida Dodge
F: Sybil Evans
F: Josie Noble
F: Nora Westol
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Caroline Mortonson, so., F, Lyons
Lyons—Caroline Mortonson (Niamh Griffin), 52nd minute