By Mike Garofola
WAUCONDA -- The final day of the Northern Lake Country Conference season did not disappoint.
Thanks to Avalyn Woods, Grayslake Central has a league title for the first time after its 1-0 victory over host Wauconda on Thursday night at Ray Porten Athletic Field.
Woods steered in the game-winner in the 37th minute and then she and the rest of her teammates managed the one-goal advantage the rest of the way to secure the history-making win.
Both Grayslake Central and Wauconda appeared to be down and out in the title chase after losses to then league-leading Lakes. But the Rams’ cross-town rival Grayslake North stunned Lakes to throw the race up for grabs.
"We all kind of expected that after Lakes beat us, then Wauconda, we would be fighting for second place in the conference,” explained junior Sara Armstrong with her good friend and heroine-for-the-night Woods nodding in agreement. “(Grayslake) North did all of us a big favor when they beat Lakes.
"Avalyn and I have been friends since kindergarten. It's amazing that we can enjoy this night together and with the rest of our teammates."
Armstrong and Woods shared the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for their difference-making play.
Grayslake Central had to make double history to share the league title with Lakes.
"We have never beat, or drawn with Wauconda. Beau (Shogren, Wauconda manager) does a great job with his program, and they are always a very tough opponent," began Rams manager Keith Andersson.
"Tonight we did a lot of good things to get this result. Avalyn was a key figure in this victory, not only the goal she scored but her play in the middle. She helped control the midfield all night long."
"I usually play more of the six for us,” ," said Woods, who went box-to-box for 80 minutes, won countless 50/50 and second balls, and provided excellent distribution in the middle of the park. “Tonight I moved into more of an attacking midfield spot. To have the chance to get that goal for us was just amazing."
"I totally trust Avalyn wherever she plays for us,” Armstrong said. “Tonight she was just great for our team in the midfield, and that goal that she scored was unbelievable."
Armstrong provided enterprising runs up the left side. Her tireless work rate was another reason for the Rams success.
"(Grayslake Central) was so tough tonight," said Shogren. “They seemed to win nearly every 50/50 ball, and they did a great job of keeping us from getting much of anything going in their end. The result they got was well-deserved.”
Shogren led his club to five-consecutive league championships (not counting the 2020 season lost to COVID). During that time the Bulldogs went undefeated against conference foes.
"I feel our seniors, in particular, have put a lot of pressure on themselves to continue our streak," continued Shogren, who in 2019 led the Bulldogs to the third place Class AA state trophy, the first in program history. "Maybe now with this game behind us, they can all go out and play more free-flowing soccer with more freedom now that weight is off all of their shoulders."
Wauconda will send a quartet of seniors to play junior college soccer at Lake County next season. They are Kenna Wisniewski and team captains Nico Gerle, Anabelle Hernandez and Kayla McCarthy.
Gerle and Grayslake Central's Armstrong were honored before the game as Northern Lake County Conference sportsmanship award winners.
The crowd was also introduced to Dick Berry, who has been a fixture at sporting events at Wauconda High School for 50 years. Berry taught at Wauconda from 1972-2006. After he retired, he took on the tasks of welcoming officials to sporting events and helping to prepare field venues for competition. The school named an annual track and field meet after him: the Dick Barry Wauconda Girls Track and Field Invitational was contested by 12 teams on April 23.
Grayslake Central completed its mission Thursday. The Rams figured that Lakes would defeat Grant that evening. The teams victories left them tied at the top of the conference standings with 6-1-0 records.
"We knew what we had to do, and we also knew Wauconda would be tough,” Woods said. “I felt that we came out really strong, had a lot of the possession.”
After a tepid start on this gorgeous spring evening, the Rams (7-10-1) began to build impressive statistical numbers. They took seven shots (three on frame including Woods’ finish), four corners and several deep throws in the Bulldogs end.
"(They) were the aggressors tonight,” said Shogren. “Fortunately for us, our two center backs, Hannah Dubach and Sophie Kloss, were both outstanding in front of both of our keepers, who have been great sharing time all season long."
Lilianna Schmidt and Makayla Doschadis have handled the chores between the sticks for the Bulldogs. Sophomore Doschadis has exceeded all expectations according to Shogren.
Grayslake Central won the first half hour as the Rams looked to put the ball on the boots of Mallory Burrows, Ava Henne, Armstrong and Woods. Ava Ramsey and Mari Williams were the targets up-top.
"Ava was just tremendous for us tonight," began Andersson.
"She ran at their backline with speed, quickness, purpose and was great off the ball and in her diagonal runs. The only thing she didn't do was put one into the back of the net, but this was her best overall game of the year."
Woods went wide in the 13th minute. Ramsey burst up the right side then played a lovely ball to Burrows who smashed it into a football upright. Then Paige Durley set Ramsey free with her near-perfect cross-field serve. The play ended with Schmidt saving what seemed a sure goal.
"We've been moving the ball and connecting our passes so much better of late," said Andersson. “Tonight, I really liked how we continued to play that way, because it allowed us to have the ball for most of the night.”
In the fateful 37th minute, Madison Hoffman, the Rams terrific central defender, and free kick and long-throw specialist, tossed a searing deep missile into the Bulldogs box that the home side failed to parry away from an awaiting Woods.
With pinpoint precision, she nestled her left-footed one-timer from the right side into the other side of the Bulldogs net to give the visitors the evening’s only goal.
"Everything happened kind of quick," said the junior Woods with a smile. “When the ball fell to me, I just hit it the best that I could with my left foot.”
The visitors just missed adding to their advantage minutes into the second period. A brave block by Dubach on a wicked blast from Ramsey kept it a one-goal game in the 43rd minute.
The first 10 minutes of the new half belonged to the Rams, who would not allow their hosts to keep the ball long enough to manufacture any type of attack.
The home side came alive when it began to give McCarthy more touches in the middle of the park. When the senior had the ball, good things began to happen for the Bulldogs.
McCarthy pieced together a nice one-two with Riley Ayala that resulted in a deep throw, then a corner kick that forced Hoffman to head the well-driven ball out of the area.
McCarthy and Hernandez created the first of three corners for the Bulldogs, which ended with a looping effort easily caught by Grayslake Central keeper Ella Tews.
McCarthy was at the center of one last chance on frame when she found Mia Breur, whose effort forced Tews to save in a relatively calm 80 minutes in net.
"(They) were the aggressors early on," said Shogren, whose club fell to 6-4-3 overall and finished 4-2-1 in the league. “(We) started to rise to the occasion, but they beat us on a wonderful shot. And they didn't really allow us to put enough together in the final third to score.”
Wauconda will train up to the state tournament. The eighth-seeded Bulldogs open at the Class AA Carmel Regional against no. 9-seed Vernon Hills (4-9-1) on May 16.
Grayslake Central has a while to bask in the glow of its first conference title.
"The girls knew what was at stake tonight,” said Andersson. “They came out and played a nice game of soccer to get the win we needed.”
The sixth-seeded Rams will now prepare for no. 11-seed Resurrection in its regional opener on May 16 at Lake Forest.
"Like I said, it seems like it's been forever that we've come out ahead of one of Beau's teams,” Andersson said. “I am proud of all of the girls, and now, we'll have a good solid week to get ourselves healthy and ready for the tournament."
Grayslake Central (4-4-2)
G- Ella Tews
D- Kate Kruse
D- Madison Hoffman
D- Katie Dinsmore
D- Jordan Sutter
M- Sara Armstrong
M- Avalyn Woods
M- Mallory Burrows
M- Ava Henne
F- Mari Williams
F- Ava Ramsey
G- Lilianna Schmidt
D- Haley Kirchwehm
D- Sophie Kloss
D- Ava Dubach
D- Caryl Fisher
M- Emma Wisniewski
M- Kayla McCarthy
M- Nico Gerle
M- Clara Donahue
F- Anabelle Hernandez
F- Kenna Wisniewski
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Sara Armstrong., jr., MF, Grayslake Central; Avalyn Woods, jr., MF, Grayslake Central
Referee: Alex Mavrothalasitis
Grayslake Central: Woods (Hoffman), 37'
Grayslake Central: 6
Grayslake Central: 9
Grayslake Central: 5
Grayslake Central: 3
Grayslake Central: 7
Grayslake Central: 0
Tag(s): Grayslake Central