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Crystal Lake Central regains its stride vs. De La Salle

By Mike Garofola, 06/05/23, 5:45PM CDT


Tigers offense awakens vs. short-handed Meteors in 5-1 3rd place win

NAPERVILLE -- When the dream of playing for a state title is over, the idea of turning your thoughts to play in the third place contest, in less than 24 hours, is initially never met with much excitement.

However for both De La Salle and Crystal Lake Central, the second to last game of the Class AA season could have almost been called their own mini-final. Each side looked for a history-making win in the teams' first trip to the Final Four.

Led by its Illinois coaches all-state junior Olivia Anderson and a rampant first half attack, Sarah Fack's club from Crystal Lake claimed the third place AA state trophy with a 5-1 win Saturday on the North Central College campus.

“We felt we didn’t necessarily play to our potential against an extremely talented Benet side, which would have been a difficult way to end such a great season,” said Fack of her squad’s semifinal loss. “While we, of course, wanted to be playing in the final, very few teams get a chance to go out with a win. So, focusing on getting back some intensity for the third place match and playing well was our goal.”

Earlier in the season, the six-year Tigers manager watched her young club lift the Fox Valley Conference championship trophy for the second-consecutive year, this time with a perfect 9-0-0 record. The league accomplishments included a 2-0 victory over Huntley, which advanced into the Class 3A sectional round before a semifinal loss to Lake Zurich ended its season.

For De La Salle (17-5-5), its manager Carlos Nunez and senior defender Joanna Mullen, a pair of Final Four losses did not denigrate a storybook run for a program that finished 3-10-0 one year prior to  the arrival of the Class of’23.

"We were really short on our bench today and had a few players who were suffering from various aches, pains and injuries," began Nunez, who had just three reserves available on a hot late morning and early afternoon at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium. “But we gave it our best shot, and we get to take a state trophy home with us. It's something the girls will always remember.

"The memories these girls made, that's bigger than a victory or loss."

Since that 2018 losing season, Nunez has inspired his Meteors program to a sparkling 65-16-11 overall record. He is 118-75-21 over his 11 years of work with the girls program.

"We'll put a banner up at school,” he said. “And every time they come back to visit, it will always be there for them to see the great memories and success they have achieved."

Mullen, a feisty and hard-working defender for the Meteors, was a part of 14 clean-sheets. Six were achieved in the seven matches prior to the Class AA finals weekend.

"It's been amazing to be part of this team,” said Mullen. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds, and we all just appreciate and love each other for who everyone is. We made it to state because we've worked so hard together and want the best for all of us.

"This is my last year, and to finish fourth in the state after overcoming so many hurdles says a lot about who we are.

"Being from the South Side of Chicago, we are the first women of De La Salle to get to this tournament. It is such a huge step for all of the young women who want to play soccer, which makes me even more proud of my team."

The Meteors were bumped into the third place contest following a 4-1 loss to eventual state champion Glenwood. Crystal Lake Central (19-4-0) found itself playing the early Saturday game after a 2-0 loss to Benet.

"We had a bad case of nerves at the start of that game with Benet," said the Tigers terrific outside back Paiton Hulata, who is one of 10 players in Fack's First XI who return next spring. “When we gave up that goal (at 5 minutes, 56 seconds) we were chasing the game against a really good team. We really didn't get back to playing like we know we can until the second half.

"So many of us were part of a disappointing loss in our sectional final to Boylan last year," said Anderson. “This year we beat them to get here. 

“It was important for us to come out today and play our best soccer to bring home the third place trophy."

Much of the success the Tigers enjoyed this season was due to their balanced attack. Four players had double-digit goal totals, including club leaders Brooklyn Carlson (17) and Anderson, who finished with 13 goals after her double Saturday.

Kalissa Kaiser's opener in the 16th minute, her first of the campaign, put the Tigers on the board. Anderson doubled the advantage in the 24th minute.

Ava Knapp struck for the always important late goal 1:50 before the intermission.

In between, Meteors keeper Emily Samuels was kept busy. She turned around a trio of quality chances on frame. The best came in the 12th minute when Jillian Mueller was allowed to tee-up from 16 yards, but the brave Samuels stood pat.

"We ran into a real buzzsaw in this game,” said Nunez. “Another team with set plays, who moved the ball really well through its midfield and exposed us as the game went on.

"We were already thin. We lost Imani (Coleman) early, and Sissi (Loza) was unable to go. Between the heat, Crystal Lake and our lack of reserves, we just ran out of gas.”

Sissi Loza led the Meteors with 27 goals this spring. She was followed by Mia Ortega (13), Coleman (12) and freshman Dixie Zamago (11).

"We didn't finish the job last year when we lost to Fenwick in the supersectionals, but we got them back this year to advance," said the proud Coleman, an outside midfielder with plenty of pace, purpose and skill in her game. “We were able to reach the big goal (of making the state finals) we were working together to achieve.”

After suffering an apparent leg injury early in the game, she got back on the field, despite aggravating it with several subsequent falls after contact. She will return next season along with seven others from the Meteors starting 11.

Mullen recorded four blocks on close-range efforts. She stopped one from Kaiser that was on its way in before the break. 

De La Salle’s Samantha Velasco tried to lead the Meteors to their opener with a dangerous inward-swinging corner in the 37th minute to the back post. But Crystal Lake Central got there first and cleared it from danger.

The score became 4-0 in the 51st minute on an unassisted effort from Hadley Ferraro.

De La Salle’s Lauren Torres pulled one back when she converted a spot-kick in the 74th minute.

Anderson's side-footed one-timer off a helper from Hulata three minutes from time ended the scoring.

“It's been a great season for Crystal Lake Central soccer that everyone in the program should be proud of,” said Fack. “Our goal is to get back here next year play in the final."

De La Salle went 7-0-3 entering the finals weekend. The Meteors also hope to return in one year and bring more hardware back to 34th and Michigan Avenue.

"(This) season has made me so proud,” began Mullen, who shared Chicagoland Soccer the MVP of the Match honor with Crystal Lake Central’s Anderson. “As a young girl seeing soccer, I wanted to play the game. We not only made history in our school, but on the South Side of Chicago. We really give the sport of soccer a big push.”

"I told the team before we lifted the fourth place trophy to start anticipating how we're going to get back here to Naperville next year,” said Nunez. “We'll bring the experience and education of being here into next year. With us returning so many players, we will have a good idea of how to continue to be successful."

Starting lineups

Crystal Lake Central (4-3-3)
G- Addison Cleary
D- Kalissa Kaiser
D- Chelsea Iles
D- Shaylee Gough
D- Paiton Hulata
M- Katie Barth
M- Oliva Anderson
M- Maddie Gray
F- Brooklyn Carlson
F- Lizzie Gray
F- Jillian Mueller

De La Salle (4-5-1)
G- Emily Samuels
D- Lauren Lo
D- Joanna Mullen
D- Vicky Luna
D- Sophia Torres
M- Lauren Torres
M- Imani Coleman
M- Dixie Zamago
M- Samantha Velasco
M- Kennedy Carpenter
F- Mia Ortega

Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Olivia Anderson, jr., MF, Crystal Lake Central; Joanna Mullen, sr., D, De La Salle

Officials: Brad Steinhagen (center); Michelle Waldbeeser (AR1); Mike McDermott (AR2); Alex Kuvshinikov (4th)

Scoring summary

First half
CLC: Kaiser (U/A), 16'
CLC: Anderson (M. Gray, Mueller), 24'
CLC: Knapp (Ferraro), 38'

Second half
CLC: Ferraro (U/A), 51'
DLS: L. Torres (PK), 74'
CLC: Anderson (Hulata), 77'


Crystal Lake Central: 11
De La Salle: 5

Shots off
Crystal Lake Central: 4
De La Salle: 4

Corner kicks
Crystal Lake Central: 9
De La Salle: 1

Crystal Lake Central: 4
De La Salle: 1

Crystal Lake Central: 5
De La Salle: 3

Yellow cards