Lyons Township High School’s Ava Pike (15) battles for control over the ball against an O’Fallon opponent during the Lions’ 1-0 loss in the IHSA Class 3A state championship game on June 19 at Hoffman Estates High School. It was the Lions’ only defeat of the season. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

A narrow loss in a state championship game would mean heartbreak for many teenagers. That wasn’t the case for Lyons Township High School senior Elli Kosanovich and her teammates.

A moment of defeat was followed by their finest hour Saturday night at the IHSA Class 3A state girls soccer finals in Hoffman Estates, when Kosanovich carried the second-place trophy over to the Lions’ fans after O’Fallon edged had LTHS 1-0 in the championship game.

The Lions (20-1) were denied in their attempt to win their first state title and become just the second large school – and fifth overall – in Illinois history to record a perfect season. Yet they celebrated as if they had won.

“That was a way of me thanking our fans,” Kosanovich said. “We couldn’t have gotten here without them, so me doing one little victory lap even though we lost was kind of fun.”

Fun was the name of the game throughout a season that began during the uncertainty of the pandemic and ended with a celebration of what high school sports is all about.

Kosanovich, a defender and team captain, was at the center of it all.

“It for sure was a tough loss,” Kosanovich said. “Obviously, anyone in this position wants to get first and O’Fallon is a really talented team.

“You have to celebrate all that we’ve accomplished this season because at the beginning of the year we didn’t even know we were going to have a season. And the fact that we went 20-1 and let up four goals this entire season really says a lot.”

The postgame celebration included the players dumping a bucket of ice water over the head of LTHS coach Bill Lanspeary, then doing the same to assistant coach Andy Newcomb, who tried in vain to avoid the drenching. It was the first time anyone could remember the losing coaches getting doused.

“Why would we not?” asked senior forward Ava Dallavo. “We got second in state, which is amazing; 20-1, that’s a pretty good record.

“A lot of us seniors have been playing together since U-8. It was a celebration of one last game of playing together. I think it was great.”

Dallavo came within inches of giving the Lions, who were appearing in the championship game for the first time since 1997, the lead with 4:20 left in the first half. But her 30-yard shot hit the crossbar.

“If I had hit that a little bit less, it would have gone in,” Dallavo said. “It’s that one shot, the one goal, the one save that wins a state championship. One thing to change the game.”

O’Fallon (20-2), which was making its title-game debut, changed the game for good when Kiley McMinn scored on a 25-yard free kick with 35:29 left in the second half.

The Lions mustered three shots after that. Two missed wide and the third, an attempt in the box off the toe of senior forward Jordan Lee-Caracci, was stopped by O’Fallon goalkeeper Grace Vincent with 40 seconds remaining.

Lee-Caracci, who led the team with 15 goals, tallied the game-winning goals in LT’s previous three wins, including a great volley off a pass from Kosanovich in Friday’s 2-1 semifinal victory over Barrington.

“I’m so emotional,” said Lee-Caracci, who will attend Butler but has not decided whether she will try to walk on the soccer team. “But this team has been amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better team to leave with.”

Lanspeary said he was inspired by the maturity the Lions displayed during and after the game.

“It’s a great perspective on it,” Lanspeary said. “When all these players look back on this season, and even right now, they realize how fantastic it’s been.

“And most importantly, they’ve enjoyed every minute of it. They love being around each other, they love going to practice, they love playing these games, and that’s what made it such a special group to be around.”