When Lake Forest High School’s girls soccer team fell 3-1 to Fremd in the 2011 state sectional championship tussle, Scout coach Ty Stuckslager figured it was back to the drawing board.
The Scouts were graduating 12 seniors, including seven of the team’s top eight scorers and five all-conference players.
“We were rebuilding with a capitol ‘R,’ ” Stuckslager recalled of his outlook for 2012. “We wound up losing 90 percent of our scoring and 15 girls,” including three underclassmen.
If this were Stuckslager’s idea of rebuilding, opposing coaches would love it if he shared a few secrets from his success. After a 2-2-1 start to the season, the Scouts, who have five sophomores and four freshmen on the roster, put together a seven-match winning streak, which unbeaten Loyola ended with a 1-0 nail-biter in the April 22 championship game of the Pepsi Showdown.
In their four-game march to the title game, the Scouts posted wins over two of the state’s elite teams, Elk Grove (2-1 in overtime) and Plainfield North (1-0). It was the first loss of the season for Elk Grove, while Plainfield North already had eight shutouts to its credit.
“I have been pleasantly surprised,” Stuckslager said. “We have received great leadership from the seniors. A couple of the younger girls have matured beyond expectations and our freshmen have shown unbridled enthusiasm. All the credit goes to the girls. They have been so coachable, from the seniors on down.”
While the Scouts did not receive much preseason hype, Marina Katz and Abby Shipp, two of the senior captains who were named all-conference last spring, saw a different scenario during early workouts.
“We knew we had to overcome the graduation losses, but we also knew we had a good group of sophomores and freshmen,” said Katz, who will play soccer at Division II West Chester, Pa., University next year. “It was on us as captains to be good leaders and get them to step up.”
“During the first week of practice, I realized we had a good team in the making,” Shipp agreed. “The underclassmen have a lot of talent and were picking things up right away.”
Although the title was on the line against the defending Showdown champions, Stuckslager made sure every girl on the roster played in the first half against Loyola. While junior keeper Liz Clark already has been credited with six shutouts this spring, sophomore backup Ginny Revenaugh played 20 minutes in the net during a scoreless first half at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
“Ginny not only played, but she made a couple of incredible saves,” Stuckslager said.
“Coach told us before the game that he was going to play everyone, because playing on a professional field (home of the Chicago Fire) was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” added Shipp.
Loyola finally broke through in the 75th minute, when Colleen McShane’s shot got past Clark.
“It was really exciting to come into the Pepsi Showdown as the sixth seed and make it all the way to the title game,” Shipp said. “I don’t think anyone expected it, but in the end Loyola proved it is a great team, especially for a team playing with a target on its back because of its ranking.”
A stickler for defense, as evidenced by six shutouts in the nine victories, Stuckslager has built this team around the back half of the field. With Clark as the final line of defense, he has been using a rotation of Katz at center back along with a rotation of senior Ellie Revenaugh, junior Danielle Loeger and sophomores Mick Mackenzie, Sydney Jackson and Lucy Edwards to shut down opposing attacks.
“They play the game the way I like to see it and the way I like to coach it,” said Stuckslager, a former professional player himself.
Ups and Downs
However, the Lake Forest coach did not like what he saw when the team returned to action April 24 against Warren. The Scouts (11-3-2) gave up a goal in the first 10 minutes and finally salvaged a 1-1 North Suburban Conference tie when Catherine Traut, the other senior captain, scored off her own rebound.
Prior to a 6-0 win over Wauconda on April 26, Traut led the Scouts in scoring with 10 goals and four assists, followed by freshman Carly Hoke (5 goals, two assists) and Shipp (3 goals, five assists).
“I don’t think it was a matter of overlooking Warren,” said Katz. “It was our fault for not coming out ready, and we let them have that quick goal.”
“We should have shut them down,” added Shipp, who will join the club program at the University of Denver next season. “But it was our third game in four days and our last game (at Toyota Park) was on a field 10 yards wider than we are used to playing.”
According to both players, Lake Forest’s performance at the Pepsi Showdown should bode well for the team’s confidence as the postseason approaches in about two weeks. Because of a decrease in enrollment at Lake Forest, the Scouts will drop down to Class 2A for the state tournament series.
“We gained a lot of confidence from the Pepsi Showdown, but there are a lot of things we need to keep working on,” Katz said.