WINNETKA — Two hours before the start of Friday afternoon’s Don/Raider Cup semifinal at Skokie Playfield, North Shore Country Day freshman forward Kaeden Ackley found out he’d been promoted to varsity by none other than his mother, Stacy.
Raiders coach Kyle Jones sent Ackley a note about the good news, but the first-year booter did not check his email.
“I was getting ready for JV practice,” Ackley said. Jones called Stacy, who then called her son. Kaeden suited up for North Shore Country Day’s parent club and made the most of his opportunity, scoring a five-yard goal off a slick feed through traffic from senior forward Leif Steele in the 31st minute of the 35-minute half.
The tally evened the contest at 1.
Alas, Ackley’s varsity-debut accomplishment couldn’t match Notre Dame’s lofty effort in sunny, muggy conditions. A Class AA supersectional team with a 16-6-2 record a year ago, Notre Dame topped the host school 3-1 behind junior forward Ante Basan and junior midfielder Joey Sorce.
Each notched a goal and an assist and helped the Dons (1-0-0) advance to the Don/Raider Cup title.
The tournament concludes Saturday on the North Shore Country Day campus. Notre Dame meets Senn, which beat Christian Heritage 5-0 Friday, at 1 p.m. for the title. North Shore Country Day (1-1-0) hosts Christian Heritage in the third place match at 11 a.m.
“We got outplayed and outworked,” said North Shore Country Day manager Jones, whose crew had to battle without talented senior co-captain Daniel Becker (hip injury). “We didn’t set up enough, and we took it on the chin. You know, Notre Dame is definitely a good team. Hats off to their players.
“Fortunately we get to play again in less than 24 hours.”
Notre Dame needed only eight minutes Friday afternoon to secure a 1-0 lead. The rugged, intense Basan — American football and rugby teams everywhere should covet the forward’s abilities — delivered a 25-yard, diagonal service from near mid-pitch to senior forward Ryan Shanahan, who then hammered a 15-yard, far-post shot past top-notch senior goalkeeper Aram Dombalagian (nine saves).
Dombalagian darted to his right to make a sensational kick-save in minute 30, prompting similar reactions from both benches.
“What a save!” a North Shore Country Day voice said in awe.
“That was quite a save,” a Notre Dame bench player blurted seconds later.
North Shore Country Day equalized a minute later. Steele dished his assist from a spot just north of the 18-yard box. An undaunted Ackley never hesitated as he neared Dons senior keeper Cian Haugh (two saves).
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, this is a perfect opportunity to score,’“ recalled Ackley, who poked home a shot from point-blank range. “I did not want to miss that chance to finish.”
The tally stunned the visitors.
“We entered halftime with a sour taste,” Notre Dame coach Mike Smith said. “We felt we should have scored more than one goal. But their goalkeeper played lights out, made some amazing saves.”
Notre Dame’s collective mood brightened in the 49th minute, when Sorce’s lefty, curling corner kick found an open Basan, stationed not too far from the far post. Basan’s ensuing fastball beat Dombalagian.
“Our firepower,” Basan said of what opposing squads should be aware of when facing the Dons.
“We’re going to score a lot of goals,” Sorce added.
Sorce struck for his goal — a 30-yard beaut from up-top, off a dandy pass from senior midfielder Ian Martinez — in the 52nd minute to end the scoring.
The matching one-goal, one-assist efforts by Basan and Sorce earned them Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match honors.
Martinez also was a steady threat throughout the 70-minute match versus North Shore Country Day, which went 22-2-1 and reached a Class A sectional semifinal last fall.
“Joey and Ante gained a lot of experience last year as sophomores on varsity,” said Smith, who also lauded his backline of Adrian Pasic, Bryan Vazquez and Max Stalenczyk. “And Max, he’s such a beast, winning the balls the way he does. We returned a good core (18 Dons) and brought up six very
“We were optimistic entering this season. It’s a very competitive bunch, with good camaraderie and team chemistry.”
The motto “I AM BECAUSE WE ARE” on the back of Notre Dame’s warm-up T-shirts reflects that esprit de corps.
Notre Dame, a three-time reigning sectional champion, started the second half with a collective resolve and maintained it, even after Smith’s crew had earned a two-goal advantage.
Basan punched a couple of screwball-like crosses off the right side of his right cleat that were either promising or frightening, depending on your fandom. Martinez’s all-out hustle and technical skills didn’t result in a goal or an assist, but don’t be surprised if he breaks through for a hat-trick or two in 2023.
North Shore Country Day seniors Smith Flickinger and Sam Fielder each thwarted a couple of forays from the visitors in the second half, but Notre Dame capitalized too often on its raids in Raiders
The Niles school has dandy Dons, indeed.
Excessive heat earlier in the week forced Don/Raider Cup organizers to alter the four-team tourney’s format from a round-robin to a four-team knockout tournament. A blind draw determined the semifinal matchups. Friday’s Notre Dame-North Shore Country Day semi was a rematch of the Cup’s title games in 2021-22. The Raiders edged the Dons on PKs (3-0) after a scoreless run of play last fall. That came a year after Notre Dame nipped North Shore Country Day 1-0. Senn captured the championship in 2019; COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 Don/Raider Cup. … North Shore Country Day defeated visiting Northridge Prep 2-0 in the Raiders’ season opener on Monday. Junior forward Benjamin Rodzynek and junior Luke Hansen tallied the goals. … Ackley, on keeper Dombalagian: “He’s aggressive to the ball. He talks and he leads. And he’s never down.” … Jones, on Dombalagian: “One of the best keepers around. He makes great saves and great decisions.” … Ackley, on what impressed him about the Dons’ mindset Friday afternoon: “They were hungry.” … The first of Notre Dame’s Haugh’s saves Friday occurred near the end of the first half. His counterpart, Dombalagian, had booted the shot — a free kick — from near midfield. … Haugh, Shanahan and Stalenczyk are serving as the Dons’ captains. The Raiders’ captains are Dombalagian, Steele, Becker and Flickinger.
GK Cian Haugh
D Adrian Pasic
D Bryan Vazquez
D Max Stalenczyk
MF Ian Martinez
MF Jack McNamara
MF Sebastian Dzierzanowski
MF Angel Panora Garcia
MF Joey Sorce
F Ryan Shanahan
F Ante Basan
North Shore Country Day
GK Aram Dombalagian
D Smith Flickinger
D Kyle Banner
D Thatcher Smith
MF Kai Zavala
MF Ricardo Gonzalez
MF Razaan Ghazi
MF Jackson Berner
F Leif Steele
F Simon Luglio
F Benjamin Rodzynek
Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match: Ante Basan, jr., F, Notre Dame;
Joey Sorce, MF, jr., Notre Dame
Notre Dame — Shanahan (Basan), 8’
North Shore Country Day — Kaeden Ackley (Steele), 31’
Notre Dame — Basan (Sorce), 49’
Notre Dame — Sorce (Martinez), 52’