Second-half strikes from Lauren Kohn and Megan McCollum warmed the hearts of the frozen faithful during a 2-1 St. Viator girls soccer victory over Crystal Lake South (0-2-1) Wednesday night at Morris Field in Arlington Heights.
"With us having five out, and just getting back together after spring break, it was kind of ragged out there tonight, but we still were able to do some very good things at times to get our first win of the season," said Lions head coach Mike Taylor.
After a season-opening drubbing at the hands of No. 1 Buffalo Grove, the Lions went on a nearly 12-day hiatus from soccer, and returned to find a handful of injuries and sickness had depleted their roster in advance of a very busy week, which has the club facing Vernon Hills and Lake Forest, both of whom will be part of the Lions' sectional in the Class 2A state tournament.
"We need to get as healthy as we can for these two ballgames this week in order to see where we stand, and to be as competitive as we are able to," offered Taylor.
The Gators, who have been on the road for its first three matches of the campaign, have had a good chance to measure their progress as well, and despite remaining winless in the early going, first-year head coach Jay Mueller likes what he's seen thus far, even in defeat.
"We've got to play our first few games on the turf, and away from our place in order to get games, so it's a bit of a challenge for the girls right from the start, but I've seen improvement each time out, and especially tonight against a very good team like St. Viator, which always has a strong program," said Mueller.
During the early exchanges, most of the play was in the Gators' end with the attack from the homeside going through the sophomore Kohn, who was the central figure in the Lions' attack.
South would slowly get itself into the game, and thanks in part to Erin Woeste, Taylor Mraz and freshman Jessica Schoenfeldt, who worked tirelessly in the middle of the park, the Gators' attack would awaken from its 20-minute snooze to play some inspired, and entertaining soccer right up until intermission.
"We got off to a slow start, but we were in their end for most of the second half of that first half, and created some good chances during that time as well," said Mueller.
Bree Marshall had a chance after Schoenfeldt provided a lovely ball over the top, while Alex Romano forced keeper Sabina Raslawski to save her snap shot at 20 minutes.
Gators keeper Jaclyn Przybylski's alert read of potential trouble paid off when the senior cut the angle at the back post to force a wide shot from Michelle Trovato, who was put through by Molly Murphy as the first period drew closer to an end.
Just after the break, both sides had chances, with Kohn steering her free kick to the back post and an open Dominic Divito. who missed by inches, while on the other end, Audrey Collard collected a wonderful early ball from Katherine Siavelis, but drove her close range shot wide as well.
Kohn would find the far corner from 14 yards in the 47th minute, with McCullom doing her part to put her teammate in position to score.
"I thought we really picked up our play in the second half, and even though we're still struggling in our possession, I felt we did a lot of good things tonight, compared to that first game against Buffalo Grove," said Kohn.
Mueller would push another attacker forward for the final quarter hour and played with just three along the back line with the hope of finding the equalizer, and the move nearly paid dividends when Siavelis set Bianca Miceli free over the top only to watch Raslawski turn away Miceli from in close at 67 minutes.
Emily Zahrebelski and Maggie Leazer would tighten things up in the back for the Lions after the Raslawski save, and it wasn't long afterward that McCullom was rewarded for her efforts when the senior doubled the St. Viator advantage in the 64th minute.
Kayne Stanley's back post run, and subsequent pass would pry open the Gators' defense to allow her teammate to run freely into the box before driving her shot up and over Przybylski.
Collard would immediately pull that goal back with a searing left-footer which rattled off the post, and over the end line.
"We did so many good things in that first half, especially out of the midfield, but we got away from what we were doing in the second half, still had put some good chances together, and finally scored our first goal of the season. So there were a lot of positives to take away from tonight," said Mueller.
"We did much better with our speed of play, and as I said, there were some good things here and there that we saw, but it's a very young team, which will learn as they go, and there's a long way to go in this season," added Taylor.