IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Making the goal-line stand is her specialty.
Lake Forest High School’s Sophia DiVagno also is pretty good at being a stand-up person.
Playing a position that can be daunting — and unforgiving, at times — the sophomore goalkeeper didn’t making any excuses following her team’s heartbreaking 1-0 loss to visiting Libertyville in a Class 3A regional girls soccer game at LF’s Varsity Field on May 18.
The Wildcats scored with just 3.9 seconds left in regulation on a loose-ball goal by Alex Houser.
“I’m pretty upset with myself right now,” said DiVagno, moments after breaking a team huddle near midfield with her teammates and coaches. “That goal could’ve been prevented.”
As the clock was ticking down, things got a little messy near the mouth of the LF goal. The Wildcats, seeded No. 3 in the Libertyville Sectional, came with an all-out, last-second blitz.
“It was chaotic,” admitted DiVagno.
DiVagno could’ve screamed “foul” on the play. A potential obstruction call was there … for the calling — and the taking.
Instead, DiVagno and the LF coaches took the high road and accepted the result.
“A pretty exciting goal — for them,” said Lake Forest head coach Ty Stuckslager.
The LF coach, who guided the sixth-seeded Scouts to an 8-7-2 record, had nothing but praise for his talented goalie.
“She’s been outstanding for us,” said Stuckslager. “She’s been a stalwart.
“She plays with a lot of poise,” the coach added. “And she does a great job of organizing our defense.”
DiVagno was at her finest on May 15, when LF defeated Highland Park on penalty kicks (3-1) in a regional semifinal. She made a number of impressive saves that night, including three in the PK shootout.
PKs can be a tricky business for a goalie.
“Some people tell you to guess. Some tell you not to guess,” said DiVagno. “I just try to trust my instincts.”
DiVagno had a number of keepsake performances this spring.
“She had six or seven shutouts,” said LF assistant and goalies coach Steve Douglass. “She’s been impressive.”
Last year, DiVagno broke onto the scene along with six other elite-level freshmen. Six of those players left the LF program to play club ball full time.
The one wearing jersey No. 0 took a different route.
“She’s the one who stayed,” said Stuckslager.
“That was a bold decision by her,” Douglass added.
And, it’s one that DiVagno does not regret.
“I had a concussion issue so I thought that playing club would be too huge of a commitment,” she said.
Besides, the 5-foot-5 DiVagno added: “I love the experience of playing on a high school team. I love the bonding. We see each other at school everyday, and we really get to know one another. Our team chemistry this year was unbelievable.”
DiVagno, who also started in goal for the Scouts last spring, has put together a solid resume. Prior to high school, she was the No. 1 goalie for a Lake Forest Soccer Association “Dream Team”, which won four straight state championships. Her U16 squad took second in the national tournament.
“They kind of just gave me the spot,” said DiVagno. “In the first two months of my U8 season, I was a forward.
“But I couldn’t figure out the offsides rule,” she said, with a smile. “So they made me the goalie.”
That positional changed has paid dividends for DiVagno.
“She came to us game-ready and well-regarded,” said Douglass. “And she just keeps getting better. I’ve never had a goalie [in the girls program] work any harder than her.
“She’s focused, engaged and she plays with a lot of confidence,” Douglass added. “She’s won the trust of her teammates. In fact, her teammates love her.”
Notable: So far, three players from that celebrated LF Soccer Association team — who are currently playing for FC United — are set to play college soccer. Sophomores Bridget Mitchell and Nicole Doucette have made verbal commitments to Northwestern University. Junior Quinn Sokol will take her game to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. … And stay tuned. Sophomores Sarah Bires, Ingrid Falls, Julia Loeger, Alyssa Marquis and Ella Marquart also figure to play soccer at the next level.