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Preview story: Jones aims to stop Lane juggernaut in city final

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 05/10/23, 2:30PM CDT


CHICAGO — Ten calendar years and nine seasons ago, Lane and Young staged a riveting and dramatic clash in the city championship game.

As the practice tended with the two, each side threw haymakers that were dazzling and ferocious. In that edition, both sides withstood the attacks.

After regulation and two overtime periods did not create a goal, Young captured the championship in a shootout.

Lane exacted its revenge quickly when the Fates pitted the city titans against each other five days later in a regional semifinal.

That Young title-game victory in 2014 completed a stretch of three tournament championships in a six-year stretch for the Dolphins.

What was impossible to know that night was that Lane would become ostensibly unbeatable in the Chicago Public League Tournament.

On Wednesday night at Lane Stadium, the Champions square off against Jones, and look to extend their streak to eight-consecutive city championships.

The moment is the centerpiece of city soccer. The night belongs to the players.

To heighten the excitement and reach of the contest, the game is being televised live by the WCIU (“the u,” Channel 26 broadcast signal).

The Lane roster is aware of its school's history, but the team does not feel unduly beholden to it.

“It is definitely exciting being part of the legacy,” Lane midfielder Kristi Sevova said.

“The emotions are always high when playing in the city championship, but I love the pressure. The higher the pressure, the more satisfying it is to win.”

Lane senior Mary Rau is never going to forget last year’s championship game. 

Her remarkable 43-yard kick, by her account “the greatest shot” of her life, stunned Young in Lane’s 2-1 win.

“I think it definitely puts a weight on our shoulders, knowing that expectations are high,” she said.

“Every game is a new game, and my performance is dependent on growing from the past, including past wins. Right now, we are focused on keeping our performance consistent and reflective of our best abilities.”

Both teams enter the championship game radiating confidence and momentum. Each won their respective Premier divisions with 5-0-0 marks. The old Premier Division expanded from eight to 12 teams and was split into two geographically positioned divisions starting this season. Jones took the South; Lane took the North.

The Champions (11-4-2), who are ranked no. 20 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, have won eight-straight games with a 42-2 goal differential.

Lane is 9-1-1 in its last 11 games. The only loss during that time was a 3-2 decision on April 12 in Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic group play against New Trier, which was ranked fifth at the time. The Champions held a second half lead in the match.

Jones (14-6-0) has won six-straight games, five by shutout, and enjoyed a 34-1 goal differential during that run.

The Eagles are 9-2-0 in their last 11. 

Significantly one of those defeats was a 5-1 loss by Lane on April 21.

During its seven-year championship run, Lane has beaten Young five times, Payton once, and Jones in 2017, the first time in program history the Eagles made the championship game.

Lane held a 2-0 lead in that game. Jones fought back and tied the game at the start of the second half until Lane’s depth led to a 5-2 victory.

“We are all so excited in the finals, and being the underdog definitely motivates us to prove to others that we deserve to be here,” said Jones’ Carolina Rondelli, a 2022 Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater.

“Being the second Jones team to ever reach the finals is an amazing feeling, especially because this is our (the seniors) last year here.”

Rondelli is one of the most explosive scorers in the state. She is more than complemented by seven different Jones’ players who have scored at least five goals.

Physical and skilled with the ball, Rondelli has scored 33 goals and contributed 16 assists.

Freshman forward Aiyana Wright has been a revelation, flashing speed and explosiveness at the top of the attack.

She has 20 goals and 13 assists.

Forward Caroline Patterson, who scored the opening goal in the first Lane game, has 10 goals and 17 assists.

Forward Mia McRoberts had eight goals and eight assists.

The defense has also found its voice. Senior Patricia Felder is the emotional leader of the group.

“It just feels amazing to even be a part of this game,” Felder said. “It is going to be about doing the work. It will be a mental game that we have to carry through for all 80 minutes.

“Now we just have to finish it.”

Jones second win over rival Young this season came in the city tournament semifinals. It came from a 4-3 PK advantage following a scoreless regulation. 

“This team is more talented than the 2017 team, and I believe the best team I have had since I have been at Jones,” coach Derek Bylsma said. 

“We have several dangerous players who are always a threat. The 2017 group was a great team and played really well together, as does this group.”

Jones has yet to beat Lane. The teams have tied twice -- the most result was two years ago.

In the April 21 game, Patterson staked the Eagles to the early 1-0 lead. 

Lane sophomore Grace Carman spearheaded the comeback with two goals that spanned the end of the first half and start of the second.

“We learned that Lane is a very good team and will take advantage of mistakes,” Bylsma said. 

“We are going to have to be completely dialed in and cannot afford any letdowns or lapses during the game.”

Carman has come of age, and emerged as one of the top sophomores in the state.

Sharp, fast and highly skilled, she has a double-double with 13 goals and 15 assists.

Rau has the same distinction with 12 goals and 13 assists. Sevova has eight goals and three assists.

Forward Avery Ellis has six goals and two assists.

Carman’s 70th-minute goal secured the 1-0 over Payton in the semifinal.

“I think we were too comfortable against Payton in the first half and didn’t play with the right intensity,” she said.

“I think the attitude that we all are having with the Jones game is that the final is a much bigger stage with more pressure. We can’t get complacent, even though we had a huge win against them. I think we are going to come out hungry.”

Lane has multiple players who are playing in their second- or third-straight city title game. The pandemic-canceled season in 2020 prevented a fourth.

That kind of experience and savvy is hard to overestimate.

“With seven-consecutive championships, we know what we are capable of, and we want to continue that domination,” Ellis said.

“Having played in these games before just makes me more excited. I will forever remember last year’s game.”

Soccer is also about memory and adaptation.

Rondelli said the earlier game provided a glimpse into the way Lane plays.

“We kept up with them for most of the first half,” she said. “Then we fell off, and we were unable to get back into the high-intensity game that we were playing.

“We also learned that they play Mary Rau in the middle, and she tries to find fast wing players for the through-ball. We have to block those off. The mentality going into the game is that we can win. We need to play with confidence, grit and energy.”

Once again, the intersection at Addison Street and Western Avenue is the place to be.

“I think our mood is good and excited,” Bylsma said. “Our team knows that when we are at our best, we are a difficult team to play against. 

“We are playing at our highest level of the season and expect to come out with a lot of energy and play aggressively. We are looking forward to the game and having a chance to play on a bigger stage to show the community how much we have improved.”