Lake Forest sophomore Ava Walsh understands the fragility of an athletic career.
Walsh, a second-year starter on defense, watched her older sister Lyla suffer a career-ending injury early in her senior season last year. Lyla Walsh was expected to be an integral player in the back for the Scouts.
“She taught me not to give up and has always been my role model,” Ava Walsh said.
Lyla Walsh’s advice was invaluable, according to Lake Forest coach Ty Stuckslager.
“Lyla is a great calming presence, a voice of confidence and reason to tell her to plug away when things are bad,” Stuckslager said. “But they haven’t been bad.”
Indeed, Ava Walsh’s career so far has been full of highlights, and she provided perhaps the best yet during the Scouts’ Class 2A Deerfield Sectional semifinal on Tuesday.
Walsh launched a nearly 30-yard shot that found the back of the net in the 77th minute as fourth-seeded Lake Forest upended top-seeded Carmel 1-0.
The Scouts (10-7-3) ended the Corsairs’ season for the second consecutive year and advanced to the sectional championship game against St. Viator on Friday.
“One of the reasons we have such a tough schedule is when things get tough, we’ve already been there,” Stuckslager said. “The girls were very resilient today. Emily Fix is a great player, and I know they had an injury that hurt them, but they still have some studs behind them. They showed it. Our defense has grown throughout the year and held.”
Carmel (12-7-1) played without star forward Anna Hartman, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the regional final against Vernon Hills. Without the high-scoring Hartman, the Corsairs were missing half of their one-two punch. Fix, a Marquette recruit, was held scoreless by the Scouts.
“Winning a regional was great, but sectionals is a whole new ballgame,” Carmel coach Stephanie Kile said. “Lake Forest is one of the toughest teams in the playoffs. They go in knowing they are the underdogs and are motivated. They’ve had our number the last two years. … Lake Forest never tired. We were tired at the end there, and they made us pay for it.
“We had many chances we could’ve put in that could’ve defined the game. We missed Anna. She’s a playmaker for us.”
Lake Forest’s Maeve Bradley set up Walsh for the goal. Bradley soft-touched the ball from the middle to Walsh, who was streaking down the sideline. She took the pass and dribbled at top speed for almost 25 yards, slowing down only to move the ball from her left foot to her right. Then, in an instant, Walsh drilled the ball into the far upper corner of the net.
Her shot shocked Carmel goalkeeper Abby Tekampe, who had three saves, including two in the final two minutes.
Walsh, who had scored one goal this season, uses her speed to transition to offense in an instant.
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“That’s always been my thing because I always call for the ball and sprint down the field and either cross it or take a shot,” she said. “That’s probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit. That was a perfect shot.”
Bradley said she didn’t hesitate to pass the ball to Walsh so far from the goal.
“I just always know Ava is going to be there on the side,” Bradley said. “Right when I got the ball in the middle, I heard her scream, and I just turned and hit it to her. I knew she would get to it because she is so fast. I always can hear her. We are a pretty big communication team.”
Stuckslager said Walsh is just scratching the surface of her potential.
“She’s a player everyone notices,” Stuckslager said. “As a sophomore, for them to see that is special. Usually, you see a forward who is incredibly fast, but to see someone from the back who can generate that kind of excitement is rare. How often is a team talking about how they can mark a defender?
“I want to see that (goal) on film. I knew as soon as she cut back and had a seam because that’s her magic.”
Bobby Narang is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.