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Season recap: Deerfield 

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 06/15/24, 12:15AM CDT


Soccer is a microcosm of life. On the pitch, the sport uses emotion to yoke together players into a greater whole.

Few sports are so dependent upon chemistry and cohesion. It’s evident in many different ways, which include a midfielder knowing exactly how the forward is going to make that diagonal run, or the keeper intuitively understanding the movements of and her connection to the backline.

While those patterns can be familiar, the randomness of the sport leads to the unpredictable.

Soccer is its own peculiar combination of fortune and the boldness of well-meant action.

On May 17, events transpired against Deerfield in its 1-0 Class AA regional championship loss against host Vernon Hills.

What a difference five weeks made.

On April 12, star midfielder Emily Fox scored three goals and precocious freshman Addy Margulis added another in the Warriors’ 4-2 home win over the Cougars.

“Even though our season ended before we wanted, it was a great year,” senior midfielder Jessie Fisher said.

Junior forward Ryane Emory, a three-year starter and foundational piece of the team, said the season could not be defined solely by the number of victories or any other typical standard of success.

“I’ve been playing with these seniors for so long now, and just having them here, in their last year together, and seeing how excited they were by the season and the attitude they brought to every game is what I’m going to remember and cherish the most,” she said.

Fittingly, the team’s two college-bound players are set to take up residence in the same city: Fox is set to play at Division I Saint Louis, and defender/midfielder Addison Soroka will toil for Division III Washington University.

Four-year starter Fox, arguably the greatest player in program history, leaves as a prolific scorer and three-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State player.

By contrast, Soroka played one-year of high school soccer after three years of club ball.

The beauty of soccer is that every player has a different narrative.

Even the team manager, Carly Schwartz, played one game at keeper.

“We played a total of 14 seniors this year,” coach Rich Grady said. “We had four four-year players with Fox, Fisher, Lauren Gottlieb, Avery Kingsepp, Madeline Stevens, two one-year players, and everything in between.

“Ruby Levy was a three-year player. The Munoz sisters (Daniela and Natalia), Sophia Peiser, Ruth Prass, Cassidy Stormoen and Celeste Rivera each played two seasons.”

At the moment the seniors entered high school, the game was marked by uncertainty and profound disruption brought about by the pandemic that wiped out the entire 2020 season.

Four years later, the group completed an extraordinary and sustained run of excellence, a 75-24-8 record punctuated by the third place Class AA state finish as sophomores in 2022.

Deerfield was a model of consistency and dominance, even down to the identical 17-6-2 records in each of the last two seasons.

Grady earned his 240th career victory in the regional semifinal victory over Northside on May 14.

“As a group, they have won more games than any other class in a four-year span,” he said. “They set the bar of excellence and refused to accept anything less.  

“I think the culture of the program was defined by this group, from the offseason workouts, to whip-arounds at practice, to taking a stand on issues that were important to them.”

With her 29 goals and nine assists, Fox rose to the top of the Warriors’ record book.

She finished her prep career with 102 goals, the most ever at Deerfield. Her 42 assists ranked second to All-Stater Holly Deutsch, a 2022 graduate.

Fox is one of the greatest players to ever come out of Lake County.

Few players have ever shown such a remarkable facility for the moment. The opposition sent constant double and triple teams to get the her off the ball.

She could score with either foot, and moved laterally as well as she did in a direct line.

Her accuracy off movement was breathtaking. 

“She was so much fun to watch and coach,” Grady said. “She is the most-player, but also the hardest worker and her harshest critic.

“She was always doing extra work on her own to make herself better —whether that was ball work, shooting or fitness.”

Fisher assisted some of Fox’s goals and worked as the connective thread who helped make the Warriors’ parts work seamlessly together.

She finished with five goals and 10 assists.

“I think from the start of the season, we were all a very motivated team,” she said. “I remember right after the tryouts ended. The coaches got us together and said we have a very good group of girls, and we want to have success.

“Every team has their own version of success and how they define it, but for us it was about playing for each other and being the best team that we could be, having the best team work we could have and uplifting everyone.” 

The season was marked by a significant change. After dominating the North Division of the Central Suburban League, the Warriors were moved to the powerful South Division.

The six-team group was the best girls soccer conference in the state, with 3A state champion New Trier and powerhouses Evanston, Glenbrook South and Glenbrook North.

New Trier finished higher in the state tournament (champions) than it did in its own conference (runnerup).

The Warriors made their conference debut at home against the Trevians and held them to a 0-0 tie. Deerfield went 1-3-1 in conference play.

“It was a great challenge, and something I was really excited about, especially as a senior, to play against these bigger schools,” Fisher said.

“I can say confidently we played great in every game. It’s not easy to adjust to a new conference, especially a new conference with such great competition.”

Deerfield was the only Class AA school in the division.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge, but I think we acquitted ourselves well,” Grady said. 

“In addition to the tie with New Trier, we beat Maine South, and the games with Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South could have gone either way, both one-goal losses.”

Deerfield was ranked four of the nine weeks of the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 poll, and ended the regular-season ranked no. 1 in the Class AA Super 7 poll.

The Warriors finished with a 79-18 goal-differential.

During the season, Deerfield played two state champions in New Trier and Crystal Lake Central, which won Class AA.

The Warriors defeated fourth place Class A power University (Chicago) 4-0 May 4.

Deerfield was the rare team that played a Final Four opponent from each of the three classes.

Fifteen different players scored at least one goal for the Warriors.

If many schools would solely lean on 14 seniors to maximize their potential, Deerfield also found a way to develop and implement its young and emerging talent.

Freshman forward Leah Cohen was a revelation, scoring 11 goals and contributing six assists. 

Levy finished with five goals and four assists, Soroka tallied three goals and six assists.

Freshman midfielder Olivia Levin, a whirling dervish who brought energy and excitement off the bench, finished with two goals and six assists.

Sophomore Samantha Block made her high school debut after playing for a year in an academy program. She finished with six assists.

Emory finished with 10 goals and five assists.

If Fox was the face of the program, Gottlieb was the rock. Grady admitted in retrospect his biggest mistake was not starting her as a freshman.

Her emergence two years ago provided the defensive foundation and identity of the state finals team. Gottlieb finished with 16 shutouts that season.

Playing 1,705 minutes this year, she posted 119 saves and 12 shutouts with a 0.798 goals-against average.

Gottlieb established a new program record with 36 career shutouts, shattering the previous mark of 27 by Sari Eisen, the starter of the 2016 state runnerup.

Soroka began in a traditional four-back alignment before shifting to a center defensive midfielder about halfway through the season.

Block, Margulis and Sophia Peiser were the mainstays of the back.

“We expected to do well because of the strong returning core, and players like Block and Soroka coming from the academy team,” Grady said.

“They were as good as advertised. For me the freshmen were pleasant surprises. Margulis was a stud at centerback who constantly won tackles and head balls. 

“Olivia Levin was an excellent midfielder who could play both offense and defense effectively. Leah Cohen moved back and forth between midfield and forward, and did well wherever she was asked to play.”

Despite the nature of competition for playing time, Deerfield was a team without division.

“I just think the community and the bond we created with each other over the past years, we just came to know each other so well,” Emory said. “We wanted to work for each other and not just ourselves.”

Fisher said most of the seniors had a deep history together, going back to youth play, grammar school and AYSO.

“Even if the season ended sooner than we wanted it to be, I think at the end of the day, what we all realized is that it’s not just about how far you went at the end of the season,” Fisher said.

“It’s about what you put into each game, your chemistry on and off the field. I felt what was unique about this year’s team is how well we played no matter where we ended up.”