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Game story: Balance keys Lyons’ 4-0 triumph over St. Ignatius

By Mike Sandrolini, 03/13/24, 7:00AM CDT


4 different Lions score in teams’ tourney- and season-opener

LA GRANGE — As has been the case the past two seasons, Lyons opened a new season against a Chicago opponent as part of the City-Suburb Connect Invitational.

To begin the 2024 campaign Monday night, the Lions hosted St. Ignatius, which dropped from Class 3A to AA this season.

On an unseasonably warm night with steady, sometimes gusty, winds, St. Ignatius hung with the talented Lions, who are ranked fifth in the Chicagoland Soccer First 50 preseason poll, for most of the first half. But after sophomore forward Zibby Michaelson broke the scoreless tie in the 35th minute, it was all Lyons.

Senior forward Peyton Israel then scored just 30 seconds into the second half to make it 2-0. The Lions also got goals from senior midfield Josie Pochocki, a Southern Indiana recruit, and junior forward Estelle Giustini en route to a 4-0 victory.

“It’s been a great way to start the season, to play teams that are not right in our backyard, not in our conference,” said Lyons coach Bill Lanspeary of the invitational. “This year, there are a couple of new teams in it, too. It’s nice, and they’re good, tough teams, so it’s a good way to start the season.”

It’s an odd season-opening night, when the only weather people are complaining about is the wind.

“I don’t think anybody loves it,” Lanspeary said about the blustery conditions, “but we’ll take 65 (degrees) at this point in the year. When it’s windy like this, every coach will tell their players to keep the ball on the ground and move it as best you can. We tried to; it’s going to get up in the air a little bit. I don’t think the wind made too much of a difference for us tonight.”

Lanspeary gave all credit for the tournament and its concept to Hinsdale Central coach Tony Madonia. The invitational started in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic. Madonia wanted to bring suburban and city teams together that normally wouldn’t face each other during the regular-season. 

The Lions resume play in the invitational with matches at DeLaSalle at 5 p.m. Thursday and at Young at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“He (Madonia) just called (me one day) and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. What do you think?’” Lanspeary said. “(I told him) ‘It sounds great.’ He’s the one who made it work.”

St. Ignatius coach Pam Whitehead said after the game that she figured the Lions would be a handful.

“We knew that they would be a tough team going in,” she said. “Lyons is a really good team; they have a great program. They bring everybody up with the same philosophy; they all play with the same local club. A city team like us, it takes us at least two weeks to figure out how to play together as a unit.”

To say the Wolfpack faces a rugged schedule over the next 10 days would be putting it mildly. They host no. 19 Hinsdale Central on Thursday and no. 18 Oswego East on Saturday to wrap up invitational play. Then the West Side school tangles with no. 12 Evanston on March 19 and no. 6 New Trier on March 21.

“We have a super tough two weeks,” Whitehead said. “We look at it as a preseason. I liked a lot what I saw on the field (tonight). This is a young team, and whether we win a game or we lose a game, we’re always looking to make improvements.”

Lyons senior defenders Jillian Herchenroether, Caroline McKenna, Brennan Israel and Abby Brown helped limit the Wolfpack to one shot on goal. Junior Nora Ezike and sophomore Anna Bigenwald combined for the clean-sheet.

The Lions have a nice mix of seniors and younger players, A few, in particular, made their presence known Monday night.

In addition to their goalkeeper tandem, there’s Chicagoland Soccer All-State forward Caroline Mortonson, an electric junior who assisted on Michaelson’s goal. Mortonson scored what would have been Lyons’ first goal of the season at the 30-minute mark if it were not waved off due to an offsides call.

Then there’s Michaelson, sophomore mid Carolina Capizzi — a West Suburban Conference Silver Division selection as a freshman — and Giustini.

In her first varsity game, Giustini assisted on Michaelson’s goal, and then scored herself in the 60th minute on a nifty shot. She curled the ball over the head of St. Ignatius goalkeeper M.C. Galante from about 25 yards to net the Lions’ final goal of the evening.

“It’s amazing,” said Giustini, who garnered Chicagoland Soccer’s MVP of the Match honors. “Honestly, I was going into this knowing I was playing with an amazing team and wanting to do well. This was just perfect. I’m really glad I got the opportunity to play a lot and the goal.”

“I think we had a number of new players stepping on the field for the first time today, and they got some experience,” Lanspeary said. “They got some of those jitters out of the way. We looked good at times. Things weren’t necessarily clean all the time, but for a first game this early in the season, we’re very happy with where we’re at. We just always hope we get better.”

Getting better also is a goal St. Ignatius embraces. Junior mid Quinn Urquhart believes playing tough teams like the Lions will only pay dividends as the Wolfpack gets into their conference season.

“I definitely think it’s a challenge,” she said. “We got moved down a division, but I feel like we’re really setting ourselves up for success, playing all these hard teams at the beginning. I’m happy we have the challenge.”

Unlike their young, rebuilding visitors, Lyons goes into 2024 “definitely (with) some high expectations,” Lanspeary said.

“The kids have worked really hard. We have some talented kids; it puts some added pressure (on us), but I think our kids kind of have those expectations for themselves. It should be a fun three months. The kids really enjoy being around each other so we hope it’ll be an awful lot of fun.”

“I definitely think it’s a confidence-booster that we were ranked no. 5 (in the Chicagoland Soccer First 50 Poll),” said Peyton Israel, who along with Brennan, is one of three pairs of sisters on the squad. The other two sets are Caroline and freshman Claire Mortonson, and seniors Riley and Avery Wengerd. “We have a lot of returning girls who are super good, and I think we have good chemistry. I think it’s made us excited for the season.”

Brennan Israel and senior mid Izzi Wirtz also were all-conference selections in 2023.

“I know we were nervous going into it, but I think overall as a team, we played really well together. I think everybody was super encouraging,” Peyton Israel said. “I think we really brought the energy, especially when we scored.”

“I think our team is very solid this year,” Guistini added. “If we just keep practicing and putting in the hours, I think we’re going to be really good.”

Lyons was the undefeated West Suburban Conference Silver Division champion and advanced to the title game of the Reavis Sectional last spring.

“We’re hoping to go further than that,” Guistini said. “I think our team is pretty good this year.”

Starting lineups

St. Ignatius
GK – M.C. Galante
D – Carmella O’Malley
D – Emma Penner
D – Lucy Schmidt
D – Izzy Radecki
MF – Lili Garcia
MF – Maeve O’Meara
MF – Quinn Urquhart
F – Hailey Conroy
F – Lauren Reed
F – Kayla Washington

GK – Nora Ezike
D – Jillian Herchenroether
D – Caroline McKenna
D – Brennan Israel
D – Abby Brown
MF – Josie Pochocki
MF – Izzy Wirtz
MF – Leahla Frazier
F – Caroline Mortonson
F – Izzy Lebar
F – Peyton Israel

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Estelle Giustini, jr., F, Lyons

Scoring summary

First half
Lyons – Zibby Michaelson (Estelle Giustini, Caroline Mortonson), 35th minute

Second half
Lyons – Peyton Israel (Josie Pochocki), 41st minute
Lyons – Josie Pochocki (unassisted), 55th minute
Lyons – Estelle Giustini (unassisted), 60th minute