CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central had one goal heading into this spring: end the season on top of the Fox Valley Conference standings alone.
The Tigers wanted to win an outright conference title after sharing the crown in 2019 and winning the conference’s tournament in a shortened 2021 season.
Crystal Lake Central used a strong second half to take down Prairie Ridge, 5-1, Tuesday afternoon, and second-place Cary-Grove lost, 6-1, to Hampshire, leaving the Tigers exactly where they wanted to be: outright Fox Valley Conference champions.
“I’m really proud of us,” Central senior Sam Sander said. “We worked really hard this year.”
[ Photos: Prairie Ridge vs. Crystal Lake Central soccer ]
Central (12-2-0, 7-1 FVC) started the match strong when Olivia Anderson found herself alone on a fast break and scored to make it 1-0 with 30:47 left in the first half.
But the Tigers struggled to connect on their passes for much of the first half and work together to move the ball upfield. Prairie Ridge tied the match when Olivia McPherson knocked in a goal from outside of the corner of the box with 5:33 left in the half.
Central regrouped at halftime and got back to playing the soccer the Tigers have all season. Kali Kaiser broke the tie when she scored on a shot beyond the box that went over Wolves goalkeeper Mia Pietramale’s arms with 36:43 left in the match.
The Tigers became more aggressive and stole the ball consistently, earning goals from Sander, Carter Thompson and Skyler Wolfgram to break the match open.
“They figured out in the second half that isn’t who they are, that’s not how they know how to play, so they turned it around,” Central coach Sarah Fack said.
Prairie Ridge (1-14-1, 0-9 FVC) looked strong in the first half when the Wolves worked together to score McPherson’s goal.
The Wolves kept up the intensity at the end of the opening and half and start of second, but the Tigers used their experience to force Prairie Ridge into errors that cost them goals.
“We knew they’d come out hard in the second half,” Prairie Ridge coach Justin Brown said. “They have a great team; they’re deep. That’s why they’re the conference champs.”
Prairie Ridge’s next match will be its postseason opener against Crystal Lake South in the Class 2A Crystal Lake South Regional on May 18. Central will close out the regular season Friday at Burlington Central.
Although the Tigers are proud of what they accomplished this season, they know they still have another level to reach once the postseason starts.
Matches like Tuesday’s show the good and bad in a team, and the Tigers are ready to make the final adjustments they need in order to add another championship to this season’s list.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Sander said. “We’re very successful right now, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get better.”