NORMAL – Lincoln-Way West’s girls soccer team has prided itself on its tough defense, which resulted in 16 shutouts, including sectional wins over Lincoln-Way East and Sandburg.
But if the Warriors were going to continue their most-successful season yet, they would need to record one of their best efforts on defense when they faced a talented Collinsville team in Tuesday’s Class 3A Normal Community Supersectional.
The Kahoks demonstrated why their program had advanced to the final eight for the fifth time in six years and why they had won trophies the last two seasons, including a second in 2016, as they skillfully moved the ball downfield and distributed it in a particularly effective manner.
While West did a fine job of keeping Collinsville’s dangerous attack at bay, they were unable to keep the Kahoks from putting the ball in the net. Collinsville moved in front for good with a goal in the 48th minute and added an insurance tally in the 76th minute to capture a 2-0 victory.
The win advances Collinsville (19-6-1) to Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinals at North Central College in Naperville against New Trier, who beat the Kahoks, 4-0, in last year’s championship match, while coach Jeff Theiss’s Warriors, who advanced to a super-sectional match for the first time in their history, bowed out with a 16-7-2 record.
“They were very strong in the middle and were very experienced and composed on the ball, they go east-west and on a big, wide field like that, it’s very effective,” Theiss said. “Their No. 9 (Alynnah Oleary) did a great job of staying high and wide and was causing us fits by keeping an extra body back there, which made it difficult for us to counterattack. When we did counter, I thought that we were dangerous, at times, which was limited.
“But when you’ve got Erin Toomey in the net and a strong back line, we were still confident throughout the game, really until the final whistle. I was also very proud of our center backs, Sam Sarna and Kate Honan, who did some great things back there. All of these girls have scrapped and battled all year long and we hung in there for a little bit, but you have to also tip your cap to them. That’s a very good, strong, organized team.
“We obviously lose some key girls with a ton of experience, but we had 14 sophomores in this group and 11 were up with us last year and now they had the opportunity to play in a super and the experience that comes from it. They have everything to be proud of, but they’re not going to be satisfied until they get to the big stage.”
The Kahoks put pressure on keeper Erin Toomey and her defense of Sam Sarna, Kate Honan, Savina Filip and Olivia Judge from the outset, with Emily Holten supplying most of the main threats, including a liner in the 24th minute that was headed for the upper corner before Toomey dove to deflect the attempt.
“We hung in there for a good amount of time,” Toomey said. “We’ve been strong defensively all year, but it gets tough when we weren’t able to score early on. But everybody gave everything that they had, so there’s nothing that we can regret. We have a young team, so I’m glad that we were able to get them this exposure. This season was really something special.
After a scoreless opening half, Collinsville nearly connected in the 43rd minute when Toomey thwarted Courtney Marten, who sent a second try just wide. But the Kahoks finally connected in the 48th minute when Tayler Devine went on a long run before finding Marten, who put in a close attempt just inside the post.
“This was the first game that we’ve been scored upon since our first regional game,” Honan said. “Considering that we also played East and Sandburg, who also had D-I players, that’s pretty incredible. This was the first team that we played that was a full team. This experience will be really valuable for next season and we thank our seniors for putting us in this position. I think the best thing about this team is that we were fun.”
In the late stages, the Kahoks finally broke through again when Riley Harris made a nice pass to Holten, who put in a close-range effort just inside of the opposite post.
“We did all that we could,” senior Breanna Bembenek said. “I wish I could go back and play them again, but with this being my senior season, I don’t get that opportunity next year. But with the underclassmen and the juniors stepping up, I know that next year will be fun to watch. I’m real proud of this entire team, and I couldn’t have asked for a better senior season.”