Warriors see hopes for a title repeat dashed by Lions
By Mike Garofola
For the second time this season, St. Viator will have a side in a 2A soccer final after the Lions spoiled the title dreams of defending champion Wheaton Academy with a 3-0 victory Friday afternoon in Naperville.
The Lions meet Belleville Althoff (26-0-0), which crushed Peoria Notre Dame 5-0 in its semifinal, with the hope of giving head coach Mike Taylor a double after his boys club won in the fall as he captured his second title of his career.
"Would I have ever imagined it would be such an easy win?, No," said Taylor, "but we knew if we stopped (Ally) Witt and No. 22 (Crystal Thomas), then we stop their attack and have a good chance of winning this ballgame.
"Our defense did (just) that, and on the other end, they just didn't have anyone that could stop us up front, especially Taylor Skala, and when your down 3-0 at the half, it's very tough to come back after that."
After a group stage of matches leading up to the first semifinal of the tournament, the Lions (21-8-1) had expected its contest with the Warriors to be a full-out assault for 80 minutes
However, instead, after Skala's angled strike from the left side nestled into the far side netting, this match, for all intent and purposes, was over.
"It wasn't our best first half of soccer for the year, but it was probably our most complete 40 minutes of soccer for the year," echoed both Sam Gavin and Jackie Tumberger, who were key figures at two positions for the Lions on this day.
Tumberger, along with Meghan McGrath and Ari Kulinczenko, were air-tight all throughout, allowing little, if anything to venture near their keeper, Stephanie Shanahan.
The Lions' keeper was challenged but once, when the senior pushed a strike from Thomas up and over the woodwork at 19 minutes, when it was already 2-0.
Gavin and her mates in the middle of the park were winning every 50-50 and second ball available to basically shut down the Warriors' attack from there.
It was clear that Wheaton Academy would be unable to deal with the pace and energy of Skala, Katelyn Hammarlund, Chloe Luthringshausen, Keegan Griebel and others, as the Lions spent much-too-much time in the Warriors' end leading up to the Skala goal, and the two others that would find their way in.
"We made far too many mistakes in the first-half, and they would score on three of them," said Warriors head coach Scott Marksberry.
An opportunistic Griebel continued her outside run to the back post, where the junior thumped home a Skala cross at 13 minutes after the Lions' leading goal-scorer (36) easily beat her mark on the left side.
A nice 1-2 from Erin Renee Murphy and Kathleen Kane was sharp enough to force Warriors keeper Emily Mulder to make the save,
But minutes later, Hammarlund made it 3-0 with her 19th of the season when the sophomore headed at the back post a well-aimed serve from the corner by Gavin. That goal appeared to break the Warriors' spirits for good.
"We never really expected (it) to be 3-0 at the break, and although it looked like they were in trouble, I know that I never really relaxed until the last few seconds," admitted Tumberger.
Skala would head over the bar from in close after a well-played built up from Luthringshausen and Hammarlund, while McGrath's header at an open net at the back post was sprayed the other way.
But the three-goal lead the Lions had already built was enough to send them through and into their biggest match of the season.
"I had a very good feeling about this match last night when my wife and I were talking about today, and the girls went out there and proved me right with a very good effort from both sides of the ball," began Taylor.
"This is the match that we've pointed to all season-long, and now they have their chance to play in it."
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