By Bobby Narang
LAKE FOREST – Lake Forest and Waukegan left Tuesday’s match with different opinions.
The two teams battled well in the mid-April North Suburban Conference test that helped determine each team’s strengths.
Despite numerous missed opportunities in the first half, Lake Forest scored two goals in the final nine-plus minutes to squeeze out a 2-1 comeback victory over the Bulldogs.
The Scouts weren’t too pleased with their performance, hanging their heads in disappointment from escaping with a home victory. Maybe that’s because the Scouts had dominated the series in recent years, beating Waukegan 4-0 last season and 10-0 in the 2021.
But this was a different bunch of Bulldogs.
This pack scrapped all game long and received an all-star worthy performance from senior goalie Sarah Behena. Unfortunately a fairytale ending was not in the cards.
Lake Forest’s Hanna Sands and Elizabeth Flynn gave the Scouts the path to victory.
Teammate and junior forward Kendall Snodgrass called the near-loss a learning experience.
“I think we came out with the wrong mindset and were kind of weak minded,” Snodgrass said. “We needed to come out like we were playing Libertyville or Loyola, a stronger team.
“We came out thinking we were Lake Forest and they were Waukegan, and we can just show up and beat them. It’s a lesson going forward. We have to come out with the mindset that maybe we won’t win.
“We had a lot of learning experiences. We’re very physical, and we learned how to come back. We turned it on in the second half. We have to have the right mindset, build off your teammates and connect the ball. We were strong on the ball, especially in the second half.”
Flynn said Waukegan (3-5-3, 1-1-0) pushed the Scouts (4-2-2, 1-0-0) to the limit, showing them the importance of playing a full game regardless of the record of an opponent.
“We started out slow, and our coach let us know our warmups were a little slow. We also took it as a learning lesson,” Flynn said. “In the second half, we definitely flipped a switch and everybody communicated. And we connected passes and had more intensity, which led us to our outcome.
“I think we had a better mindset. (Earlier) we didn’t have the want to score and were just watching. … I think in the second half, it was our game.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Waukegan was both happy and frustrated. The happiness resulted from near knocking off the Scouts on their home turf. After a scoreless first half, the Bulldogs held the lead for 27 minutes after the break. Contributions came from many players.
The frustrating part stemmed from allowing two late goals, including penalty kick.
Even so, Wauakegan displayed mostly smiles during their postgame talk with coach Rachel Bravo. During postgame interviews, Bravo, two of her Bulldogs and a reporter were suddenly engulfed by the entire Waukegan team.
The moral victory motivated the whole squad to form a tight circle and join the postgame interview. Several players of those players voiced their thoughts about the game.
Freshman Celia Ramirez provided an important assist to the aging scribe – she told him his voice recorder was on pause.
In the end, the Bulldogs weren’t thrilled with the defeat but couldn't help but celebrate their stellar effort.
“I hate to say one team wasn’t as good as another, but we definitely had control of this game,” Bravo said. “It was an unfortunate call that one of our players grabbed the jersey of their players, to set up a penalty kick. Nobody wants to go down because of a PK on a call like this, especially in such a tight game.”
Bravo praised her keeper for stellar play between the pipes. Bahena, the Chicagoland MVP of the Match, was outstanding and added several inspiring plays to her season highlight tape.
She collected nine of her 11 saves in a wild, shot-filled first half. The senior had shots coming at her from nearly every angle, type and speed and stopped every attempt. Meanwhile her team took two first half shots.
“This was our goalie’s best game of the season,” Bravo said. “We had talked in the past about how she needs to have confidence and commit to whatever she did. I could totally tell she took that to heart today.”
Lake Forest junior goalie Sarah Constantine, a standout basketball player with a long wingspan, wasn’t nearly as busy as her counterpart. Instead, Constantine spent most of the match watching her teammates control possession. Five of her six saves were relatively easy, other than a tap-out save with just under seven minutes left in regulation.
But Constantine had a mishap that put the Scouts in danger after Waukegan’s Ashley Melgoza hit a free kick from roughly 60 yards away. The high, looping shot bounced in front of Constantine, who grabbed it but lost control. The ball ended up in the net.
A group of Bulldogs near the 50-yard line, immediately started celebrating the odd score – the program’s first goal since the schools started playing annually in 2017. It was also the first one-goal game between the schools.
Prior to the strike,the ball was down quickly before everyone was set. That created more than a bit of confusion.
“It just stinks that I give up an easy goal, despite the fact that I thought it was a pass to me,” Constantine said.
“It doesn’t represent our team the way it should have. My heart just kind of dropped after the goal. It was a shock. It was a miscommunication.
“I think this is definitely a learning game that we can use to improve on. We have to start off with more energy, in warmups. We have a good group of girls. We work hard and have a lot of potential.”
Melgoza said she was shocked her long kick found the back of the net. Her excitement showed in the postgame talk, as her teammates chimed in while a laughing Melgoza struggled to collect her thoughts. An injured Waukegan player added her two cents during the joyous postgame interview.
“When I got that kick, I just took the shot and saw it, and it went in,” Melgoza said while smiling. “This was a good game for us. I can see us going far in the future. Our goalie did her thing today. She really showed out today. She did us right.”
Lopez, a player to watch in the coming years, added: “We all take this game as a win.”
After the Scouts tied the game in the 71st minute, Flynn sealed the victory by beating a defender with her speed and finishing in the 77th minute. Forty-five seconds earlier, the Bulldogs blasted a shot that Constantine leaped high for a tap-out save.
Flynn relied on her observation of Bahena during the game to inform her game-winner.
“I got it crossed over from Amelia and saw that it was wide open. I sprinted really fast,” Flynn said.
“I made sure to place it low corner, because she’s a tall goalie. We were shooting high in the air, and she was getting every single one, so I just tapped it into the corner.
"We had some more energy after the first goal. Our bench really helped us. We played better and had better communication. It’s very difficult missing players, but we have a team with many versatile players who can play different positions. That’s what is amazing about our team.”
Lake Forest assistant, and head boys coach Rob Parry ran the team girls boss Ty Stuckslager attended to personal matters.
“Their player (Xiaoxu Mejia) was a very nice player,” Parry said. “We made some adjustments and got our outside backs, Hanna Sands and Ava Walsh, up the pitch, because they weren’t getting marked as much and then got our wingers to attack.
“In the first 60 minutes, it was a lot of us sitting around waiting for somebody to do something. We got the pressure for the first goal and the partial pressure for the second goal.
“We were shooting a lot of savable shots. We needed to be calmer, like on our two goals.”
GK: Sarah Bahena
D: Kayli Morales
D: Nayeli Cruze
D: Danai Serna Jimenez
D: Giselle Vazquez
D: Adamariss Chavez
MF: Anabel Lopez
MF: Ashley Melgoza
MF: Jocelyn Rogel
MF: Regina Rosales
F: Xiaoxu Mejia
GK: Sarah Constantine
D: Sophie Benjakul
D: Hanna Sands
D: Ryan Rice
D: Sophie Gauthier
MF: Maddie Cummins
MF: Lainey Tabor
MF: Amelia Fontana
F: Maeve Bradley
F: Ava Walsh
F: Kendall Snodgrass
Chicagoland MVP of the Match: Sarah Bahena, sr., GK, Waukegan
Waukegan: Melgoza (unassisted), 44’
Lake Forest: Sands (penalty kick), 71’
Lake Forest: Flynn (Amelia Fontana), 77’