NAPERVILLE – Senior Jenni Andjelic and her Lincoln-Way Central girls soccer teammates were determined to end with a victory Saturday.
Before the Class 3A third-place state match against Evanston, juniors Christine Erdman and Emma Olson brought individual white cowboy hats for everyone to sign and decorate as they wished.
“They just wanted to make state fun for us,” Andjelic said. “I think it just raised everyone’s energy. We were all excited, got everyone pumped for the game. Everyone was in a good mood.”
The Knights lassoed plenty of program history – most important their highest state finish ever – with a 2-1 victory at North Central College.
Senior defender Grace Grundhofer used her dangerous restarts to engineer both goals for the Knights (25-2) by sophomore Emma Vogler and junior Madisyn Kenworthy. Evanston (21-4-1) scored with 2:20 remaining.
“It was huge. We knew in school history no one’s ended on a win,” Grundhofer said. “It just feels so amazing to have this opportunity and know that we just made history. It still hasn’t clicked.”
The unprecedented success happened with just three seniors – starters Andjelic, Grundhofer and Sarah Borsellino -- and after graduating 10 from last season and having a three-year varsity junior not return.
Lincoln-Way Central finished fourth in 2007 – its last state trip – and 2005. Including Lincoln-Way High School history until 2001, these Knights’ single-season record for victories ties Lincoln-Way’s best of 25-5-1 in 2000.
They also are the only Lincoln-Way girls team to finish the season with a victory. Lincoln-Way was second in 2000 and 1999 and fourth in 1998.
“Once you get out of school, it’s hard to keep everyone motivated. To remain focused on something we set in motion a long time ago is difficult. But they stayed tight, they stayed together,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Sean Fahey said.
“That’s just a testament to their grit. They take pride in shutouts (21 this season) and winning.”
With 28:36 left in the first half, another of Grundhofer’s celebrated flip throw-ins was headed home by Vogler.
“I feel like one of my specialties, getting around when it’s really crowded and just getting a foot on it,” Vogler said.
With 22:43 remaining, Grundhofer struck with a corner kick that sophomore Reagan Schultz slipped along the crease. As the Wildkits tried to clear, Kenworthy tried to shoot and the ball went into the net.
“It was kind of both (motions),” Kenworthy said. “All you can do on the flip throws is try to be in the right place and work to get it.”
Andjelic, the only four-year team member who will play at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was third on the Knights with 15 goals. Grundhofer, who will play at Fort Hays State, had a team-best 23 assists.
A former gymnast, Grundhofer taught herself flip throw-ins after seeing them by a player on older sister Kyla’s team.
Grundhofer was a hurdler for the 2019 girls track team. She and Borsellino joined soccer in 2020 but COVID-19 canceled that season.
“I decided right before (outdoor) track. (Kyla) convinced me,” Grundhofer said. “I’m very happy I made that decision.”