Most programs that graduate 11 seniors would be looking at a rebuilding year.
That probably won’t be the case for the Lyons Township High School girls soccer team.
The Lions, who went 17-5-2 and won their fourth straight regional championship in 2016, still have plenty of weapons thanks to senior newcomer Erin Smothers and a host of talent moving up from an unbeaten sophomore team.
“We had a sophomore team last year that went undefeated, scored like 98 goals and gave up seven,” LTHS coach Bill Lanspeary said. “Our sophomores were fantastic last year and we’ve got a lot of those players, so I feel like we kind of reloaded.”
The Lions (1-0-1) certainly don’t lack firepower if their first two games are any indication. They bagged eight goals in beating Oswego East 5-3 in the season opener before tying powerful Metea Valley 3-3 on March 22 at Bennett Field.
Metea Valley, which has reached the sectional finals the past three seasons, led 3-1 before the Lions rallied to force the draw in a thrilling game between two highly talented teams.
“It shows how much we persevere,” LTHS senior forward Jenna Fuller said. “We’re not going to give up even if we’re down two goals. We can always come back.”
Fuller, an Ohio Northern recruit, and Smothers, who will continue her career at St. Ambrose, will team with senior Mary Devine to give the Lions a potent, speedy attack that can score from anywhere at any time.
Smothers, a senior who is in her first year with the Lions after playing club soccer her first three seasons, proved that by scoring 20 seconds into the game against Metea Valley. She also set up the game-tying goal with 25:09 left in the second half by stealing the ball from a Metea defender near the endline and tapping the ball into space, where Devine hammered it home from six yards out.
“That was Smothers with the effort getting around a kid that was shielding the ball,” Lanspeary said. “She got around her, saved it and played it back to Mary. That was a great effort.”
Though she hadn’t played with the Lions before, Smothers always took an interest in the team.
“I’ve always been into the high school soccer scene,” Smothers said. “I’d come to the games and watch when I wasn’t at practice or club. It feels good to finally actually play for my school.”
Fuller fully appreciates what Smothers adds to the team.
“Club is different from high school,” Fuller said. “Club girls obviously play faster so it’s nice having someone who has been used to that and can bring that speed.”
The Lions also benefit from first-year varsity players Bella Lestina, Meara Hilling, Georgia Dougherty, Elsa McMahon, Lauren Kimberling and Grace Truax, who all played on the vaunted sophomore team last season.
Lestina, a junior forward, scored 30 goals for the sophomores in 2016 and had a goal and an assist against Metea Valley. Dougherty, a sophomore, starts at forward while the other varsity rookies come off the bench.
“As many players as we lost, we’ve got some good players stepping up,” Fuller said. “They’re not quite as experienced as (the ones) we had but they are good players and I think as the season goes on they’ll just get stronger.”
With two-time defending champion Hinsdale Central starting only one senior, the door is open for the Lions to win the West Suburban Conference Silver Division and perhaps contend for a championship.
The Lions will have to shore up their defense to do that, but Lanspeary is confident in the backline led by junior returning starter Catherine Johnson will get the job done.
“(The Metea game) was a good test for us defensively,” Lanspeary said. “I know we gave up three goals. It’s weird to say you gave up three goals and still (think) we played pretty well in the back.”