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Game story: New Trier firepower takes out Lyons

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 11/05/23, 11:30PM CST


HOFFMAN ESTATES — Famiarility can be a dangerous weapon in a game that defies easy analysis or rules of order.

Or not.

“I’ve played club the last two years with at least five or seven guys on New Trier,” Lyons defender Collin Sullivan said.  “You think you know how they play. 

“High school is a whole new thing.”

Call it what you want: culture, ecosystem, team fabric. The interior forms and connective threads of a team are rarely easily mastered, much less manipulated from the outside.

New Trier was a force multiplier, combining to create a wave out of a seamless and thrilling whole that accrued power in a dazzling and majestic way Saturday night at Hoffman Estates High School.

The Trevians scored twice four minutes apart during a technical and electrifying first half display in their 3-1 victory over Lyons in the Class 3A state championship game Saturday night.

The Trevians (23-1-2) won their 16th-straight game and captured the third state championship in program history with their first since 2008.

Senior midfielder Aiden O’Neill cemented his status as the state’s top individual talent with his playmaking, creativity and astonishing technical skills.

“I try to get on the ball as much as possible, and just try to make plays from my position,” he said.

“I think that my team does a great job of finding me, or using me as a distraction to find another player. I was just trying to get on the ball and make plays for my team.”

His play made all the parts come together with conviction and purpose, leaving the balance of the field gasping.

“They certainly had the run of play, and it funneled through their elite players,” Lyons coach Paul Labbato said. 

“Everyone in that first half seemed elite, and it took us until halftime to try and change formations and get guys in the right positions.”

The Cinderella run of Lyons (20-7-2) came to a decisive halt, but the team will never forget the journey.

On Oct. 3, the Lions suffered an improbable and shocking 2-1 league loss at Proviso West that likely caused more than a few double-takes at the score list.

Two days later, they fell 4-2 at top-ranked Oak Park and River Forest, for their third loss in four matches. The Lions appeared at a crossroads.

“After that Oak Park game, we challenged each other to be at our very best,” Labbato said. “We got better at the things that we do best.

“We challenged each other to not give up and play with composure. Even though that game didn’t go our way, it spawned on this entire run all the way until tonight.”

New Trier uses a 3-6-1 formation that emphasizes possession and ball control. 

From the opening jump, the Trevians were dialed in. They moved the ball brilliantly and with near-blinding speed. They dictated the games pace and standard of play.

In the opening minutes, O’Neill smashed a ball. Though it didn’t connect, it announced a propulsive and relentless attack.

The rest of the pieces fell quickly into place.

Moving the ball rapidly into space, midfielder Gabe Yoder spied the improving position of teammate Ian Vichnick.

With Yoder playing the ball perfectly to his right, Vichnick walked into a clear line and blasted a howitzer from 30 yards inside the near post for a breathtaking finish.

“The build-up was great, and the start was awesome,” Vichnick said. “We moved it around really well. It was a promising and really good way to start the game.”

New Trier was just getting warmed up.

In the 17th minute, O’Neill created another breathtaking sequence. In the middle, he sliced through the Lions midfield as the backline backpedaled in the hope of eventually slowing him. After his more than 30-yard carry he slotted the ball to the right wing. From there Cole Driscoll took the ball in stride and hammered home an 18-yard smash in the 17th minute.

The Lyons defense, with the 6-foot-2 Bucknell-bound Sullivan playing center back, is formidable and at times virtually impenetrable, as high-scoring Naperville North learned in their semifinal shutout loss Friday. That was not the case against New Trier on Saturday.

“We have always been a team that has worn down people over time,” Vichnick said. 

“We went down early against Evanston in the sectional, and came back. Getting early goals is not always a necessity. We are very good at solving problems. I’m glad we did that today.”

Being down has not really fazed Lyons during its run to the state championship game.

The Lions fought off three separate deficits against Stagg on Oct. 31 in the Morton Supersectional. They forced overtime with a 79th-minute goal and eventually won the penalty shootout 8-7 in eight rounds.

“It wasn’t until after we beat Morton in the sectional championship game (4-2 Oct. 27) that we felt like we could go all the way,” midfielder Declan Kracker said.

“Every team in the area has really good soccer players, but I don’t think they have the heart and the grit that we do.”

The set piece has long been the calling card of the Lions. This year’s iteration is no different. 

Sullivan’s mammoth throw-ins proved devastatingly effectively, especially against Morton, Stagg and Naperville North in the lead up to the state championship game.

Confidence remained high, despite the two-goal deficit.

“We came into the other games knowing the other teams would probably have more possession time, and they’d be better than us on the ball,” Lyons midfielder Haris Sarajlija. 

“They don’t have the same fight we did.”

Sarajlija has been one of the Lions’ top offensive threats, dynamic and creative with the ball, and brilliant on free kicks.

Lanky forward Owen Suda had a solid shot slightly high and off frame during the first half. Forward Mason Burda also created some solid moments.

At the break, the Lions were down, but still active, engaged and thinking about how to counter the Trevians’ possession advantage.

Lyons would try to turn around the game like it did its season.

“After the Oak Park game, we beat York, and that got us rolling,” Sarajlija said.

Then came a meaningful 2-0 win against Proviso West on Oct. 17 to start the playoffs.

“I felt like winning the regional game against Proviso, and getting our revenge back, really set the fire for the rest of the state tournament,” Sarajlilja said. “We really started to play for the team, and play for each other.”

In the second half of the title game, Lyons made tactical and formation changes. It pushed one defender to the midfield in an attempt to counter New Trier’s monopoly on the ball.

“I truly thought we’d get one in the second half, maybe earlier, make it 2-1, and get into something that could come down to the end,” Labbato said.

“That third goal maybe pushed it a little bit too far with the time that was allowed when it happened.”

Kevin Farina has been the soul of the New Trier backline. A converted forward, he utilized his elite 6-foot-3 height to create all manner of roadblocks and resistance for the Trevians opponents.

His offensive origins delivered the backbreaker in the 53rd minute. He intercepted a Lyons’ through-ball and promptly carried it from midfield to the top of the box.

His rush pulled Lyons’ keeper Tyler Balon off the line, and Farina gently pushed the ball from about 17 yards and slowly rolled it into the net.

“I’ve been a striker my whole life, and then I moved to center back last year,” he said.

“After I intercepted the pass, I made a big touch and nobody was stopping me. I kept going forward. There was no way I was going to pass that ball. I was taking it all the way.”

Farina is the youngest of four brothers who starred for the Trevians, making his achievement all the more special.

“They were all great players, but they never got the job done, so it feels great to finally do it,” he said.

New Trier came out of the Evanston Sectional, which was the toughest and deepest in the state. The Trevians eased past city champion Taft in a shootout for the regional title. They then beat rival Evanston for a second time, this time in double overtime, before taking down a very good Leyden team in the sectional championship. They then took out St. Charles East to gain the Final Four bid.

New Trier won state championships in 2006 and 2008. Interestingly, the last previous appearance for both teams on the final weekend of the season was in 2009, when Lyons defeated New Trier in the semifinal before topping Lake Zurich in the state championship game. The Trevians won the third place match.

Under coach Craig Fairbairn, New Trier won four-consecutive sectional championships. With current coach Matt Ravenscraft, they have now won two in a row.

In the first year of the three-class system in 2008, the Trevians defeated Edwardsville in the 3A state championship game.

New Trier avenged its only loss of the fall by defeating conference rival Glenbrook North in the semifinal game Friday.

Lyons’ hope for one last stunning title game run had become too insurmountable.

The Lions averted the shutout on a beautiful set piece goal in the 66th minute. Midfielder Mason Santos smashed home a header off a corner from Burda.

“With this group, a little glimmer of hope popped through (late in the season),” Labbato said. “I was really excited and proud to get here and play on the last day of the season.

“I think they had it inside of them all year, but they needed it to come together, and it spun into this run that they had.

“As a coach, you have to know you might not ever get back to this position.”

Oak Park and River Forest had an undefeated regular-season and was considered the team to beat.

The Huskies could not get out of the regional. 

Naperville North had the longest undefeated run leading into the state finals but fell to Lyons in the semifinal.

Everything broke right for New Trier, and every champion needs a bit of luck. In the overtime against Taft in the regional championship Oct. 21, the Eagles had a shot redirect off the post and come within centimeters of the line.

That is how close the margin is between victory and defeat.

For his overall performance in the championship, Aiden O’Neill earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor.

After playing academy for three years, the Northwestern recruit justified his decision to play high school.

“The brotherhood is just so special,” he said.

Starting lineups

New Trier
GK: Thomas Terry 
D: Harrison Hahner
D: Kevin Farina
D: Liam Myers
MF: Gabe Yoder
MF: Oliver Fernandez
MF: Yannick Vaughan
MF: Ian Vichnick
MF: Aidan O’Neill
MF: Cole Driscoll
F: Calyx Hoover

GK: Tyler Balon
D: Harrison Hoekstra
D: Mason Santos
D: Collin Sullivan
D: Declan Kracker
D: Daniel Svelvis
MF: Jimmy Brejcha
MF: Haris Sarajlija
F: Austen Wisniewski
F: Mason Burda
F: Owen Suda

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Aiden O’Neill, sr., MF, New Trier

Scoring summary

First half
New Trier: Ian Vichnick (Gabe Yoder), 13th minute
New Trier: Cole Driscoll (Aiden O’Neill), 17th minute

Second half
New Trier: Kevin Farina (unassisted), 53rd minute
Lyons: Mason Santos (Owen Burda), 66th minute