When Grayslake Central travels to Wauconda for a 6:15 p.m. match Thursday, it was thought it would be a match to decide second place in the Northern Lake County Conference.
Then high school soccer happened.
Previously undefeated Lakes (8-6-1, 5-1-0) lost 3-0 at home to Grayslake North (9-4-2, 3-1-2) on Tuesday night. That opened the door for Grayslake Central (6-10-1, 5-1-0) to share the crown if it can post a road win Thursday.
Lakes had posted back-to-back-to-back wins to all but cement the conference title: 9-0 at home vs. North Chicago, April 25; 4-1 at Wauconda (6-3-3, 4-1-1) April 26; and 2-1 at Grayslake Central on a PK conversion from Mia Silber with 54 seconds left in regulation on April 27.
But Grayslake North had other ideas.
Grayslake Central didn't crumble after the loss to Lakes.
"Yes, that was difficult for all of us, but that game in no way defines our season," said sophomore Madison Hoffman, the Rams outstanding center back, who not only has been a two-year starter for Andersson but also for the Rams basketball team. “I felt like we all came back well, and we're all looking forward to this game with Wauconda.
"Since the Malnati's (Deep Dish Classic) at New Trier, I feel like our passing game has improved as well as our communication, and just in the way we've come to know each other so much more than earlier in the year."
"We're playing more composed soccer," added manager Keith Andersson. “The girls are really starting to communicate really well on the field, which you can see has helped our overall play tremendously.”
Andersson’s Rams survived a brutal Class 3A nonconference schedule: Lane, Young, Warren, Libertyville, Stevenson and New Trier.
"We had a rough go of it playing at the Malnati's, but the girls understand we wanted to play the 3A schools to prepare us for our conference and beyond,” Andersson said. “When we lost our starting keeper Ella Tews and had one of our top field players step in (senior Katie Dinsmore), with us dealing with a few injuries that took a little bit of a toll on us."
With Tews back in action and Dinsmore back in the field, the Rams have found their equilibrium again,
Wauconda and manager Beau Shogren quickly put the 4-1 loss to Lakes in the rear view mirror.
"We just got our butts kicked in that game. There was no doubt as to who was the better team that day," said Shogren. The loss to Lakes was the program's first to a conference opponent since the NLCC began in the 2016-17 school year.
"We had an amazing run from 2017-2022. We did not lose a game in conference, won five regionals titles as well as brought home a Class AA third place state trophy in 2019.
"I have nothing but respect for the NLCC, its coaches and players. We'll go out and play our best against a very good Grayslake team."
Kayla McCarthy and Emma Wisniewski lead the Bulldogs with six goals each. Lily Schmidt and Makayla Doschadis share the work between the sticks.
"Makayla has been our biggest surprise this season,” Shogren said. “She has exceeded our expectations and has earned shared time with a very experienced keeper in Lily."
Grayslake Central, with its 7-0 victory at North Chicago on Tuesday, has won four of its last six contests and outscored opponents 21-1 in the victories.
Sara Armstrong, Dahlia Rodriguez, and the aforementioned duo of Dinsmore, and Hoffman were named to the 2022 all-conference team last June.
Suddenly they and their teammates have a match with a share of the league title on the line Thursday.
"Beau does a great job preparing his girls to play," said Anderssson. "It will be a battle for sure. Could not have asked for a better way for the regular-season to end!"