At 6 feet 3 inches tall and around 200 pounds, Leif Steele is a big weapon for North Shore Country Day. So how come he is a regular along the sidelines?
The answer can often be found on the scoreboard.
With his powerful throw-ins, which typically come within a few yards of the goal line, Steele is a creator from the sidelines, and his efforts led to both goals in the Raiders’ 2-0 win against Cristo Rey St. Martin Tuesday evening in an IHSA Class 1A sectional championship at Marine Leadership Academy in Chicago.
Steele said the long throw-ins are all about gaining an advantage on the opponent.
“Obviously it’s a big strength if we can get the ball in a place where most teams can’t,” he said. “It’s all about putting yourself in a position to get anything up on the other team.”
The victory gave NSCD its first sectional crown since 2019, when the Raiders went on to finish fourth in the state. En route to Thursday’s win, NSCD picked up its fifth straight regional title (no IHSA tournament in 2020).
Steele and the Raiders got off to a fast start on Thursday, finding the net just 109 seconds into the match.
Junior Henry Gallun headed a Steele throw-in up and over the Cristo Rey St. Martin keeper and into the far side of the net.
The goal was part of a dominant first half for the Raiders who had several other opportunities, including a penalty kick, that they could not convert. NSCD coach Kyle Jones was disappointed but not worried.
“I knew we could still create chances and it was nice to get that second (goal, late in the second half),” Jones said. “We could have had three or four, but their keeper made some terrific saves.”
Jones also credited his team’s defense, calling it “top notch” for squashing the Knights’ counterattacks all evening.
The Raiders’ second tally also began with a Steele throw-in toward Gallun. Gallun tried again to flick a header back to the far post, but it was deflected. The loose ball took a bounce in the box and NSCD junior Kai Zavala reached it first. His touch went into the upper portion of the goal, just past a leaping Knights defender.
The Knights put forth a valiant effort in the final few minutes, creating multiple scoring chances. But none of them were successful, and the Raiders soon celebrated on the pitch.
“It feels good. We had a good gameplan,” Jones said. “We saw them play and our assistant coaches did a great job of understanding their team and their tendencies. And we prepared well.
“I could tell just by the bus ride our guys were hungry and they just executed the gameplan to perfection. I thought we were the better team and created the better chances.”
Many of those chances were the result of Knights’ fouls.
Cristo Rey St. Martin was whistled for 20 infractions — 11 including a yellow card in the first half — to just six for North Shore Country Day.
Steele, as regularly one of the biggest players on the field, said he is used to the physical play and he and his teammates just had to keep their composure and power through it.
Jones added that the entire team was prepared for the Knights’ aggressiveness.
“We knew we were going to get a lot of fouls from the game film,” he said. “We said to the boys if you get fouled, get right back up and go again. They want to foul us, we’ll take it. They are a good team. They are a good group of lads, but someone has to lose and I’m happy it wasn’t us.”
The Raiders move on to the supersectional round with just eight teams let in Class 1A. They will play University High (Chicago), which emerged from the Chicago Hope Academy where it was the No. 5 seed, on noon Saturday, Oct. 28, at Marine Leadership Academy.
The Raiders bested Uni High 2-1 on Sept. 30 in Winnetka. Uni High was the winner of the 1A state championship in 2019.