Even when the Lyons Township High School boys soccer team fell behind by two goals during the first half of the Class 3A state championship game, Saturday night, coach Paul Labbato knew the Lions could rally.
“I had a lot of confidence,” Labbato said. “I truly believed we would get one in that second half, maybe a little earlier, to get it to something that could come down to the end.”
The kings of comebacks this postseason did indeed score with 14:06 left as senior Mason Santos converted off a right-wing corner kick by junior Mason Burda.
But New Trier already had added another goal and the result was a 3-1 loss to the Trevians at Hoffman Estates High School.
The Lions (20-7-2) reached state for the first time since the 2009 state championship season in Labbato’s third year as head coach.
Their 1-0 victory over favored third-place Naperville North in Friday’s semifinals was their ninth consecutive victory.
Before that, the Lions won three playoff games in which they trailed by one goal. At a brutally windy and occasionally snowy Morton Super-Sectional Oct. 31, they overcame three one-goal deficits before finally outlasting Stagg 4-3 by winning 8-7 in penalty kicks.
“Every team has really good soccer players but no one has the heart and grit that LT has. I think that’s what got us this far,” LT senior Declan Kracker said.
“Everyone’s played for each other. Ever since we lost to Proviso [West 2-1 Oct. 3], we had some doubts. A lot of people were doubting us,” LTHS senior Haris Sarajlija said.
“We kind of tuned everyone out and we’re like, ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to do it for each other.’ We did it. We made it this far and it’s surreal.”
Sullivan earned all-state honors from the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association after a great season playing center defender and contributing numerous scoring threats with his long sidelines throw-ins.
Sarajlija and senior Owen Suda were all-sectional, Kracker was all-sectional sportsmanship and senior Danny Svelnis was all-sectional academic. Senior Jimmy Brejcha, Sarajlija, Suda and Svelnis were All-West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
New Trier (23-1-2) won state for the first time since 2008 in its first downstate trip since losing to the Lions in the 2009 state semifinals. The Trevians avenged their lone loss by beating Glenbrook North 2-0 in the semifinals.
“After 2-0 at halftime, I’m looking at [our players] and saying, ‘Go get one and make this a game,’ and I wouldn’t be shocked if they could do it, but at the end New Trier did a great job,” Labbato said. “They were deserving champions. It was a pleasure to be out on the field with such a great team and put ourselves in that same exact class as a great team that had a chance.”
Against Naperville North (23-2-3), which started just two seniors, Suda scored his team-high 16th goal, 1:16 before halftime, by slipping home another Sullivan throw-in through the crease into the bottom right corner of the net. Sarajlija added 14 goals this season with a team-high nine assists.
Sullivan, who will play at Bucknell, returned for the postseason after missing the last six games of the regular season following an injury during the loss to Hinsdale Central on penalty kicks, Sept. 26-27.
Last postseason, Sullivan was injured while LTHS lost to Hinsdale Central in the sectional semifinals.
“It doesn’t feel real, but this is the last time I get to wear LT gear. I’m happy with the impact we left with the program, the relationships that we built,” Sullivan said.
“Last year, not being able to play [postseason], and just watch some of my best friends play without me, it really sucked. I am blessed to finish it with them.”
Labbato said the team received an outpouring of alumni well wishes — and more recent Lions appearing throughout the playoff run.
“It’s hard to get back here, especially through the western suburbs, thinking back to all of the players between 2009 and now, that were pulling for us and what they would do to get to this particular point,” Labbato said.
“Then this group, a glimmer of amazing, just popped through. It’s just them. They have it inside of them and had it all year. They needed just this moment to come together.”