Winnetka, Sports

One and Only: Raiders swipe program’s first state championship

NSCD outscores opponents 26-1 in seven postseason victories

Soccer coach Kyle Jones thought his North Shore Country Day Raiders were building toward something big, but he never made a state championship the team’s goal.

Instead, Jones and his staff preached “win the next one.” The strategy worked so well that the Raiders ran out of next ones.

North Shore Country Day concluded a remarkable run through the IHSA Class 1A postseason field with a 2-0 victory against Normal University High on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Hoffman Estates, claiming the first state championship in the program’s history and just the fifth in school history (two boys golf, two girls tennis)

“If you keep winning the next game, the next one become that much bigger and that much more important,” Jones said, “and our guys locked in on that. Our preparation was incredible in terms of me putting together a gameplan with the other coaches and our guys buying into it and making it happen.”

In their seven playoff victories, the Raiders outscored opponents 26-1 and did not allow a goal for the final six games, which included four straight 2-0 triumphs to finish things off.

NSCD’s Henry Gallun (11) goes to put a header on the throw-in by Leif Steele for an eventual goal.

In the title match, North Shore Country Day went back to the well one final time early. Leif Steele launched one of his patented throw ins deep inside the opponent’s goal box, where junior forward Henry Gallun leapt to it and headed the ball into the net.

Less than five minutes in, the Raiders were up 1-0.

“You try to keep the same mentality throughout the game, but it eases the nerves,” senior Danny Becker said of scoring an early goal. “We were intense going into it and that just motivated us more to go get more points on the board.”

The Raiders’ insurance tally didn’t come until the second half, but it was worth the wait.

Steele — the Independent School League’s Player of the Year — took a short, corner-kick pass from Becker and carved through the defense, winning one-on-one challenges along the end line before sliding a ball in front of the goal to the waiting foot of Luke Hansen. Hansen sent it home.

The short-corner play was a new set that Jones added just before the state finals.

Leif Steele celebrates his assist on the Raiders’ second goal in the state championship

“I passed it off to Leif who got past two guys on a phenomenal run and passed it in and our center back Luke Hansen with a phenomenal finish,” Becker said.

Becker and Jones said set pieces are a strength of the Raiders, and Jones tries to add new plays throughout the season to keep things fresh for both NSCD and its opponents.

The new corner play gave the Raiders a 2-0 lead early in the second half, but from that point, their lead was never seriously threatened.

Becker said when he saw 20 minutes to go on the clock, he began to feel what was coming, but he and his mates “stayed locked in” and “made sure to close it out — which they did.

“The moment I heard the buzzer I started tearing up a little bit,” the four-year varsity player and co-captain said. “The last two years I remember losing and seeing our seniors go. I couldn’t picture that happening to me this year. So we gave it all we had. It was a great moment.”

Aram Dombalagian, who was the ISL’s goalkeeper of the year, makes a sliding stop for the Raiders.

North Shore Country Day has built its program into a regular contender, winning regional championships each season under Jones, who is in his eighth season. The Raiders placed fourth in state in 2019 and put together a special 20-1-2 campaign last season.

This season, it all came together. And Jones said that it is because of those regional championships — and everything else that came before — that North Shore Country Day could reach the pinnacle this season.

“It’s all cumulative and building to this point,” Jones said. “You steadily improve. Before I don’t think we had gone past a regional semi, and then when you get past a regional semi the next year the standard becomes the regional final. Then, you win your regional final and then, what’s next? All these players and coaches and administrators who have contributed have kept pushing us along and helped us improve.

“This year we’ve put it all together but I think it’s because of the things that came before it. We have just gotten better and better each year. This year to finish as the No. 1 1A team is something I’ve been striving for and working for and something that I knew was going to come at some point.”

The championship Raiders are: seniors Aram Dombalagian (goalie), Smith Flickinger (defender), Sam Fielder (midfielder), Danny Becker (forward), Leif Steele (forward), Jackson Berner (mid/for), Geoff Flickinger (midfielder), James Daw (forward), Ricardo Gonzalez (midfielder), Gabe Onofre (def/mid), Kyle Banner (defender); juniors Charlie Ver Ecke (goalie), Kai Zavala (midfielder), Henry Gallun (mid/for), Razaan Ghazi (midfielder), Ben Rodzynek (mid/for), Simon Luglio (mid/for), Thatcher Smith (def/mid) and Luke Hansen (defender); sophomore Max Flemma (goalie); and freshmen Kaeden Ackley (forward) and Nolan Howard (midfielder).

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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