Emptying the bench: LCL soldiers on
Low on numbers (and goals allowed), LCL/ULS soccer emerges as powerhouse
Practice can't really begin until Jamie Schnuck gets done playing chauffeur.
The Lake Country Lutheran senior soccer player hurries out the door as soon as classes end and drives a couple miles to University Lake School to pick up Ellen Tyler, part of the co-op soccer program involving the two schools. Once they return, players saunter out to the field. When a soccer team has only 12 players, it's hard to even run drills without all hands on deck.
"Every year at the beginning of the season we try to talk to people (about playing soccer)," said Schnuck, who alternates with Kelly Swofford in the run to ULS. "This year, we had a couple freshmen we were talking to, and all of a sudden, they were doing track. Ellen had a couple girls she was talking to over there (at ULS), and they didn't come out either. We've even been talking to grade school kids for next year."
With only 181 students at LCL and another 69 at University Lake School, the options are limited. But though the co-op needs to employ a grass roots strategy to even fill the roster, this is no struggling soccer program.
In fact, the "U-Lightning" are conference champs. And heading into a season-finale showdown with Brookfield Academy, they allowed a mere two goals all season.
Surviving the marathon
Though LCL/ULS lost that battle with Academy at home May 23, 2-0, the U-Lightning still finished the Midwest Classic Conference season tied for the league title with BA at 11-2-0 (16-2-0 overall), a staggering record considering the team has only one substitution at its disposal - and that's only when everyone's healthy. The team finished a grueling overtime win over talented University School with only 11 players May 16, and twice this year, the co-op has had to start a match down a man, with only 10 available bodies.
"We go a little lighter on a lot of our practices, more so than most teams probably do," coach Jeremy Hedrick said. "We went hard at the beginning and really tapered off here toward the end because of the nonstop games."
Hedrick said he still believed his team had the arsenal to accomplish top-three standing in the conference before the season, perhaps behind BA and USM, but he didn't think his team had anywhere near the depth to win the crown.
"I wasn't expecting to be a team that shuts everyone out," Hedrick said. "We pride ourselves all year on not giving up goals. We may not score as many goals as a lot of other teams do, but we make sure we keep it sealed off in the back as much as possible."
Competing the only way it knows how, LCL's only two goals allowed before the finale came in the 2-1 win over USM and a 1-0 loss to Dominican. Schnuck was unavailable for the latter game after sustaining a concussion, and she picked up two assists when LCL/ULS won the rematch with Dominican, 5-0.
"We still practice hard; we don't think we're going to back off in a game because we have weak numbers," Schnuck said. "If we get up by a goal or two, we'll take more of a defensive approach so we're not killing our girls up top or outside."
Hedrick said his team usually gets more than one student from ULS, but it's just Tyler this season. Further complicating the cause is a successful track and field team at LCL that recently won a WIAA Division 3 regional and a developing softball team in its second season.
The soccer field has thus become a land of opportunity, meaning Hedrick has to blend his experienced players with those brand-new to the sport.
"I had one girl who just started picking up soccer this winter, and I was coaxing her to come out," Hedrick said. "We got her just in time for our second game of the season, and we played with 10, even with her on the field. The girls have been great welcoming everybody in and understanding every girl has their own role on the team."
Senior Bri Steirer admitted that winning against University School - playing the bulk of a two-overtime game with no subs - was a surprise.
"They were so up in numbers and had so much possession," she said. "They possessed most of the second half and most of the overtime, but we just found our one opportunity and executed and stayed solid on defense."
Steirer is one of several players on the roster who began playing soccer in high school.
"It's not like we lack skill, but we definitely have a workmanlike approach. … One of the things we've been working on is giving smart passes so we're not setting up our players to get hit," Steirer said.
Swofford has been in net for many of the team's 13 shutouts, and Hedrick has emphasized defense by putting his younger players offense.
"Yeah, we're small, but we can do great things," Schnuck said. "We have skills. We have talent."
On the roster
Lake Country Lutheran only has 12 players but also has a conference title.
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