An aspiring author, if Marie Soukup were to put pen to this Lake Forest High School girls' hockey season, she would probably compare it to the biggest rollercoaster ride at nearby Great America.
“This seems to be our most exciting year, but maybe I’m just saying that because it’s my senior season,’’ said Lake Bluff’s Soukup, one of five seniors leading the Scouts in their quest to defend the Blackhawk Cup championship from last year.
The other seniors include Jessie Gould (Long Grove) and Kelsey Patten (Mundelein), who attend Stevenson High School, along with Haley Conroy and Dana Markee of Lake Forest, who attend LFHS along with Soukup.
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The Scouts have certainly experienced the thrill of ups and downs during the course of this campaign. It started with a team-record 11-game winning streak. After New Trier dealt them a 3-1 defeat to end the streak, they went 6-0-1 over the next seven games. But shortly after a 1-0 loss to upstart Fenwick on Dec. 18, the Lake Forest hockey board replaced head coach Ryan Anderson with assistant Meghan Fosth.
When the calendar flipped to 2012, the Scouts opened the new year with a 3-6-2 performance under their new head coach. But now they are back on the upswing and take a 23-8-4 record into Sunday’s 2:20 p.m. state semifinal matchup with Loyola at The Edge in Bensenville. At stake is a third straight trip to the United Center on March 23 to probably meet New Trier for all the marbles.
Making the Adjustment
All five seniors fully support Fosth and blame the team itself for failing to make the adjustment during the coaching switch.
“We went through a little rough patch in our adjustment, but Meghan has done a fantastic job,’’ saids Gould, a forward and team captain. “A lot of people were in shock over the coaching change and it took a few a little longer to get over it, but Meghan has been great through all of this. Her practices have been very efficient and we have bounced back.’’
“The freshmen and newer players were now getting a chance to play more with the veterans, so there was a bit of an adjustment period,’’ added Conroy, who leads the team in both goals (21) and assists (16). “I’ve had several different head coaches in my career and I think Meghan was a good choice. The change really wasn’t that overwhelming and the losing showed we were not playing at our best and we still had a lot of work to do.’’
Markee and Patten, the two defenders in the senior class, had more familiarity with Fosth’s style.
“She was my defensive coach, so the defensive players already knew her pretty well,’’ Markee said. “Meghan stepped up and taught us some plays we should have already known. As a result, we messed up in the beginning, but we have finally pulled it together.’’
“I think the freshmen were affected the most by the change,’’ Patten said. “We were dealing with two different coaching philosophies and several players were confused by the entire situation. But we have come together lately and are playing very well right now.’’
Defending State Champs This Time
While the focus during this week’s practices is purely on Loyola, a team they have beaten two out of three times this season, the players all know what is at stake. Soukup, Gould and Conroy were all on the team that lost to Naper Valley 5-1 in their first trip as sophomores. Patten and Markee, a move-in from Richmond, Va., joined the team for last year’s 4-1 championship triumph over Loyola. In both seasons, Lake Forest upset New Trier in the semifinals.
“When we lost to Naper Valley as sophomores, I think the whole experience was a little overwhelming for the younger players,’’ says Soukup. “While we were disappointed in the loss, I think we were just happy to be there. I know I was happy because I scored the only goal. Last year, we came back with several players who had been there before and the whole experience was a little surreal. We didn’t want to leave the United Center.’’
“Everyone realizes it’s crunch time now,’’ said Gould, who is a diehard Blackhawks’ fan. “For me, getting back to the United Center would be a cool experience and the culmination of everything we have worked for. I still get a big thrill out of walking into the Blackhawks’ dressing room; I’ve been with them even when they were losing. I know it would be a great experience for our seven freshmen.’’
“It’s the biggest stadium we have ever played in,’’ added Conroy, who along with Soukup, has been on the Lake Forest varsity all four years. “It can be a little overwhelming when you first step on the ice, but it all goes away once the game starts.’’
Despite playing in two straight state finals, Lake Forest has been a bit of an unknown despite being one of the three (with New Trier and Loyola) strongest teams in the Metro North Division.
“We wore our jerseys to school on the last day before the championship game last year and a lot of people kept asking me why I was wearing a jersey,’’ Markee saids. “I had to explain to them we were playing for the state championship. So many of them didn’t know there was a girls hockey team in Lake Forest.’’
“The booster club made a poster to honor our state championship and most of the students didn’t know we had a team until they saw it,’’ Soukup added.
In addition to Lake Forest and Stevenson, the Scouts co-op team also draws players from Libertyville, Deerfield and Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart. Wearing Lake Forest gear to opposing schools can sometimes raise a few eyebrows, especially at Stevenson and Libertyville, which also compete in the North Suburban Conference with the Scouts in other sports.
“I never thought much about it until a couple of people questioned me about it,’’ said Gould. “I just like the idea of playing on a team where you can meet people from other schools. When we played Lake Forest in football this year, I sat with friends on the Lake Forest side and I’m glad I did because it was pretty embarrassing. If we make it to the United Center again, I’ll be proud to wear that Lake Forest gear to school.’’