2022 Herald-News Softball Girls Soccer Player of the Year: Lincoln-Way Central’s Grace Grundhofer

The Knights’ defender did it all for the Class 3A third-place finishers

To say that Grace Grundhofer was all over the field for the Lincoln-Way Central girls soccer team is an understatement. The senior was a mainstay in the back line for the Knights, helping anchor a defense that allowed just eight goals this season and finished third in Class 3A after posting a 25-2 record.

What set Grundhofer apart as she is named The Herald-News’ Player of the Year is her ability to key the offense as well, from nearly anywhere on the pitch. When the ball went out of bounds and the Knights were awarded a throw-in anywhere near the other team’s goal, Grundhofer made her way from the wherever she was in the back line to the front of the pack, then did her signature flip throw-in.

She would grab the ball with both hands, take a few steps, and flip forward, using the ball as a springboard against the ground. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she would release the ball on a high arc that would invariably end up near the front of the other team’s goal, where her teammates had a chance to go up and head the ball in for a score.

That move helped her lead the Knights with 23 assists on the season. She also was the player that coach Sean Fahey designated to perform corner kicks, and her strong and accurate leg gave the Knights a prime scoring chance as well.

“Grace was rock solid for us all year,” Fahey said. “She is tough, physical, phenomenal in the air, and reads the game very well. On top of what she does defensively, she also led the team in assists with 23 and scored six goals, including the opening goal of our third-place game against Evanston.

“She took most of our dead balls with great deliveries and her flip throw in was unbelievably huge for us all year as well. She is leaving behind some big shoes to fill.”

The flip throw is something that Grundhofer has done seemingly her whole life.

“I have done the flip throw since I was about seven years old,” she said. “I was in gymnastics when I was little and my older sister was a soccer player. I went to one of her games and saw someone in that game do a flip throw and I though, ‘I can go that.’

“It takes a lot of practice. You have to release the ball with both hands and you have to release the ball with both feet on the ground. It takes practice to get the timing down, and I was able to get it down pretty well.”

Grundhofer will take her talents to Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas in the fall, where she plans to study physical therapy.

“I have been committed there since I was a junior,” she said. “Knowing that my college commitment was out of the way my senior was one less thing to have to worry about, so I could just concentrate on playing soccer.

“I didn’t really want to go that far away from home. It’s a 10-1/2 hour drive. But, I wanted a school with a good physical therapy program and I wanted to play soccer, so Fort Hays was the best fit.”

Many successful high school soccer programs have a majority of their players come from the same travel soccer club, so they are familiar with each other when the high school season starts. That wasn’t the case for Lincoln-Way Central.

“The girls on our team came from 14 different clubs,” Grundhofer said. “We weren’t sure how everyone was going to fit together. At the beginning of the season, I had no idea that we would have as good of a season as we did. Once we started training together, though, I thought we could be pretty good.”

It was a win over an old nemesis that gave the Knights the idea that a state trophy was a possibility. Lincoln-Way Central beat Sandburg, 5-0, on April 19.

“Sandburg had beaten us quite a bit before,” Grundhofer said. “We had lost in the PepsiCo Tournament right before we played them, but we thought we played well in that game (a 2-0 loss to Gurnee Warren). Once we beat Sandburg, and beat them the way we did, we thought we could do something special.”

Lincoln-Way Central, with Grundhofer as the catalyst, posted 21 shutouts during the season and ended the year with a win, beating Evanston, 2-1, in the Class 3A third-place game.

“Defense was definitely a priority,” Grundhofer said. “Coach Fahey preaches defense and we listened to him and did what he taught us. Defense is hard work, and you really have to communicate and be on the same page. We had a lot of talkers in the back row, and that really helped us.”

Don’t expect the flip throw to leave Lincoln-Way Central, though. Even though Grace Grundhofer will not be on the team, her presence will be felt next year. She is currently helping her younger sister, Chloe, how to perfect the Grundhofer flip.

“I am working with my younger sister,” she said. “She’s almost there with it.”