BLOOMINGTON — As one of the state's leading returning scorers, Central Catholic High School senior Lauren Shanks is bound to attract attention.

All of it was unwanted in the Saints' contest against Normal West on Monday afternoon at Bill Hundman Memorial Field.

"My pregame talk was centered around her," said veteran West coach Val Walker. "If someone was going to beat us, it would have been her."

West utilized two and three defenders at a time to hold Shanks at bay while scoring a pair of first-half goals in a span of 47 seconds to claim a 2-0 win in the Girls Intercity Soccer Tournament opener for both teams.

The win was the first of the year for the Wildcats after two losses in the Chicago area over the weekend. Central fell to 1-1.

"We're still recovering from two games over the weekend and it seems like we were tired physically and mentally," Walker said. "But Central Catholic always plays us tough and a win is a win."

Central coach Reza Ghasemi was pleased with the spunk and plucky performance of his Saints.

Central, which started six freshmen, came within a shot off the post and a spectacular save by West goalie Bekah Nielsen of tying the game late in the second half.

"Keep an eye on our team as we go forward," Ghasemi said. "We go by the motto of we respect our opponents, but fear none. This was only our second game and we played very well. We do need to do a little bit of sharpening the edges, but our girls should keep their chins up."

Part of West's strategy in containing Shanks was keeping the ball away from her.

The Wildcats focused on possession control in the first half with the overwhelming majority of the opening 40 minutes played with West on offense at the south end of the field.

The first score came with 18:39 remaining in the half when the Wildcats' Rylee Billington was tripped up in the box, resulting in a penalty kick.

Senior midfielder Madison Bergeron took advantage of the opportunity to boot the PK into the back of the net.

With 17:30 remaining in the half, West's Taylor Donalson set up teammate Arya Gandhi with a picture perfect pass that Gandhi redirected on goal for a 2-0 West advantage.

It was the second goal in three games for Gandhi, a highly-touted freshman.

"She's going to be the real deal going forward," Walker said. "She's a multi-sport athlete and a very well-rounded individual. As she improves on her touches and learns to play a little bit more physical, she'll be a great player."

Central battled back in the second half and came within an eyelash of pulling to within 2-1 with 16:50 remaining when a shot by Shanks hit the near post. 

With 2:47 left in the game, Saints' freshman Kaylie Eckhoff sped toward goal on a breakaway, but was denied when Nielsen made a diving stop and then corralled the ball to avert a possible rebound.

It was one of three saves for Nielsen. West had eight shots on goal against Central goalie Kylee Hadley.

"We need to get better at finishing," Walker said. "We had our fair share of opportunities and we didn't make use of it. That's something we'll emphasize going forward."

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Contact Bruce Yentes at (309) 820-3391. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes


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