At the start of his inaugural campaign back in March, Lyons girls soccer coach Bill Lanspeary said he expected nothing less than what former coach Alex Hernandez accomplished during his five-year tenure.

Despite going through some growing pains throughout the regular season, the Lions are once again primed to make another Class AA state appearance. If Lyons can pull off the feat over the next week, it would be its fifth consecutive trip to North Central College.

Lanspeary’s squad earned a spot in Tuesday’s Lyons Sectional semifinals with a 3-0 victory over Morton last Thursday. Emma Havlat, Jill Kevorkian and Cassie Castillo tallied for Lyons, which entered Tuesday’s battle with Nazareth Academy at 12-8-3 overall.

“We didn’t know what to really expect at the start of the year,” said Kevorkian, who will play at Western Illinois in the fall. “We had a new coach and graduated a lot of seniors.

“But we came together and the returning players really stepped it. Our goal has always been to get back Downstate, because it would be a great way to go out. Those of us who have been here the past four years wouldn’t want our last season to end any sooner.”

While its critics believe Lyons has advanced to the state finals mainly due to its weak sectional, the Lions did bring home a fourth-place trophy last June.

“Coming into this season, we had to replace not only some really talented players from last year’s team but also some solid role players that really contributed to our success,” Lanspeary said. “Our success from this point forward will depend on the ability of our returning players to take on the role of leaders, and how our newbies mesh with the older girls.”

One bright spot all spring has been the solid play of Ohio-bound midfielder Jackie Hanson. The senior was a couple votes short of earning a spot on the coaches’ All-State squad last week.

Defenders Sara Ornelas and Bri Clark and goalie Mary Daly also have come up big in the back, while junior Keegan Kilrea has been one of the most consistent players for Lyons.

“It took some time for our younger players to get used to playing in our system, but they have really improved throughout the season,” Hanson said. “We’re back in a spot we’ve been in the past couple of years, and we really just have to take it one game at a time.

“But I know it would be a great accomplishment if we can make it Downstate once again.”