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Game story: Lockport's momentum continues against Sandburg

By Bobby Narang, 04/19/24, 2:45PM CDT


Porters remain undefeated with 7-0 league win

LOCKPORT – Lockport has hummed along this season.

The Porters (14-0-0, 1-0-0) have steamrolled a lot of the competition, especially with an offense that was turbo-charged with the additions of junior Ava Kozak, a Marquette recruit, and freshman Yurida Hernandez. The Porters entered Tuesday’s home game against Sandburg outscoring the opposition 62-6 in 13.

Lockport’s powerful march continued against the young Eagles on the thick grass of the Porters’ pitch.

The home side scored twice in the first seven minutes and never looked back in a 7-0 win over Sandburg in SouthWest Suburban Conference Red Division play Tuesday afternoon. 

Kozak, the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match, led the Porters with a pair of goals. Alyssa Flood added a goal and an assist. Meghan Mack, Karolina Skubisz, Natalie Zodrow and Claudia Cronin each had one goal. The Porters’ backline of seniors Mack, Brinlee McNabb, Emma Czech and Flood, a junior, paved the way for the shutout.

Lockport’s offense picks up the majority of the headlines, but the backline and goalie Liz Rock might hold the key to whether the Porters, the no. 2 team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, hold up the Class 3A state championship trophy at North Central College on June 1.

“They’ve been together for two years,” Lockport coach Todd Elkei said. “We know they are an experienced and confident group, and a humble group and work well together and always are in sync. Our outside backs, Flood and Mack, are outstanding. Meghan has always been a solid player but really now shows flashes of what she can do. When those two are lock down, it allows the centerbacks to relax. We’re hard to break down. Our starters have not given up a goal in the flow of play yet all year.”

In total, the Porters have notched nine shutouts and not allowed more than one goal in a game except for their 4-2 win over Hinsdale South in the season-opener March 12.

Mack, a four-year starter who committed to Cumberland for college ball, said the backline combines chemistry with experience.

“I think … looking to connect in the back and playing out of the back, not forcing it plus our speed (are strengths),” Mack said. “We’re way calmer under pressure and more composed. We connect better out of the back and don’t try and force balls.

“The key has been staying with our marks, connecting through the middle … and passing it up forward.”

Czech, an SIU-Edwardsville recruit, is playing her second year on the varsity. She was near perfect on the pitch against Sandburg and said the backline is a tight unit.

“It’s been pretty much the same backline for the most part,” Czech said. “We built that connection through playing for two years together and have grown to understand how we move together. Both outside backs have speed so that helps getting them to move up.”

Czech said the backline looks forward to tough competition.

“Sometimes it’s definitely harder, especially when we are scoring way more goals, to stay focused,” she said. “I feel like that’s what makes us better players, to be able to drive those last 20 minutes or so, stay focused and making sure noting gets past us.”

Flood said the backline is talented, but each player has a unique understanding of each other’s skills. That gives the group a special bond.

“I feel we connected really well and had a lot of communication going on. We built out of the back to the middles, and they went outside to the forwards today against Sandburg,” Flood said. “We are all on same club team. We kind of keep our connection with others throughout the year, so nothing changes throughout the year. We expect a lot from each other.”

Flood added that she had an inkling the Porters would be a state-championship caliber team last season.

“I kind of realized that we’re a good team last year, but comparing last year to this year, we’re so much more improved,” she said. “Our skill has improved, so has our communication. Every individual player has improved so much from last year. It’s been working well.”

McNabb added her own twist to why the Porters, who had eight starters return from last season’s 21-3-1 team, are a special backline.

“Defending (against our team in practice) helps a lot,” McNabb said. “Everyone is really good individually on our team. Going up against good players prepares us for games.

“I just want to keep going and keep his undefeated streak going. We have some tough games coming up. We have to keep focused and keep playing how we’re playing. We’ve been focusing on playing balls on the ground and connecting, not just pounding the ball forward.”

Elkei said his team should be tested on its trip to the Tournament of Champions in late April.

“The Iowa tournament is the one we always look forward to,” he said. “We’re playing a couple of teams that were in a state tournament final last year. We play three quality teams. Toward the end of year, it’s our tune-up for the playoffs and to get ready for the sectionals.”

Elkei joked that everything seems to be falling into place for the Porters. A quirk in the schedule allowed him to give his players Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday off for prom.

“Usually, our prom is the next weekend when we go to Iowa, but it seems things are falling in line for this senior group,” he said.

The coach is extremely pleased with the team’s play on the field but wanted to recognize achievement away from it as well. Zodrow, Czech, Mack, Abbey Mack and Sophia Cohen were being named Illinois State Scholars on Tuesday, he said.

Sandburg coach Tom Kubowicz said there’s no shame in losing to one of the best teams in the state. Immediately after the game, he made a beeline to chat with Elkei for a few minutes. The Eagles (4-6-3, 1-1-0) nearly scored in the final two minutes but came up short despite a few quality chances.

“Lockport is the best team we’ve played by far this season,” Kubowicz said. “I was just telling their coach how impressed I was with the movement they have with the ball and the way they worked together as a team. They took it to us today. There wasn’t much we could do. Every pass they made seemed to go to one of their players, just kept us off-balance all game.

“This game was tough, but we’re still a relatively young team besides our goalie. We only start one senior. All of them juniors and sophomores. The girls have improved greatly from last year to this year. We’re excited what we can do for next year and for the rest of this year too.”

Kubowicz saw positives in the match, especially senior goalie Merah Almassad. She was active, physical, unafraid to attack loose balls and notched several eye-catching saves.

“She made some nice saves,” Kubowicz said. “(Merah) doesn’t internalize and really helps us out. Today is not the first game where she’s made some big saves. She’s doing really well for us this year.”

Starting lineups
GK: Merah Almassad
D: Ellie Driscoll
D: Maeve Durkin
D: Ella Riordan
D: Kayla Siefert
D: Colleen Gartlan
MF: Moira Conway
MF: Marissa Manning
MF: Anwaar Salama
MF: Ydalis Alvarez
F: Gabby Dittmer
GK: Liz Rock
D: Brinlee McNabb
D: Emma Czech
D: Alyssa Flood
D: Meghan Mack
MF: Megan Posmer
MF: Karolina Skubisz
MF: Natalie Zodrow
MF: Kaylin Klutcharch
F: Yurida Hernandez
F: Ava Kozak
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Ava Kozak, jr., F, Lockport

Scoring summary

First half
Lockport: Mack (Giannese), 5’
Lockport: Kozak (Flood), 7’
Lockport: Kozak (Klutcharch), 15’
Lockport: Skubisz (Hernandez), 25’
Lockport: Flood (unassisted), 26’
Second half
Lockport: Zodrow (unassisted), 43’
Lockport: Cronin (penalty kick), 63’