After finishing the regular season with a record of 17-6, the Evanston Township High School girls’ soccer team entered the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the IHSA Maine East Regional with aspirations of making a lengthy postseason run.
On May 20, the Wildkits opened the Maine East Regional against Maine East and had no trouble handling the hosts as they cruised to a 10-0 victory. Morgan Muno, Maureen Kerr, and Nora Mertz scored two goals apiece, and Maia Cella, Lina Velcheva, Alex Berkley, and Kaylee Takagishi each chipped in one goal in the shutout.
The win marked the Kits’ 15th shutout of the season, which speaks volumes about goalie Olivia Post. “She is an incredible player and she played a fantastic playoff session, [allowing] only three goals this playoff campaign,” said head coach Maurizio Grillo regarding Post’s performance.
With the victory, the Kits advanced to the Regional title game against Niles West on May 23. In that game, the Kits once again came away victorious, beating the Wolves 4-1, thanks in large part to Ryan Berkley scoring three goals, including two in the second half. Olivia Bates scored the Kits’ final goal on a penalty kick.
“It was a good intense game and the level of soccer displayed by both teams was appropriate and showed why both teams were worthy of being in the Regional final,” said Grillo. “We played them earlier in the season and won 7-0, however we were well aware that back then they were missing several starters, so we knew that it was going to be a totally different game. He added, “There was a bit of concern for the condition of the field, [as] we are used to [playing on] turf so the grass slowed us down a bit, but after a few minutes of learning and experimenting, we took the lead and controlled the game.”
Regarding Berkley’s performance against Niles West, Grillo said, “She practiced hard all week long, kept the team motivated and played a fantastic game. I asked her to take some long range shots since we figured Niles was going to pack the defense, so outside shooting had to be exploited. So the fact that she scored a hat trick in that game is not due to luck or individual chances, but it was more of game plan,” the coach explained. “That shows what kind of player she is: team-first attitude no matter what. She had a plan, the team had a plan and she made sure that we were going to execute that.”
The victory gave the Kits their first Regional title since 2011 and set up a matchup with Loyola Academy in the Maine South Sectional. The Kits lost to Loyola in 2011, the last time they were in the Sectionals, so the Kits hoped for a different outcome this time around.
But unfortunately for the Kits, history repeated itself, as the Ramblers prevailed 2-1 on May 28. After trailing 2-0 in the second half, the Kits cut the Ramblers’ lead in half when Cella scored with 12 minutes and 39 seconds remaining. But the Kits would get no closer, despite taking a lot of shots on goal in the final minutes, as the Ramblers were able to escape with the victory, thus ending the Kits’ season on a sour note.
“It was the No. 2 seed versus the No. 3 seed. That literally sums it up. Two top seeded teams competing for the Sectional final. It was an intense game, physical and fast played by two great programs. It never slowed down, from the first minute to the last 20 seconds when we had our last chance to score,” said Grillo. “I feel that Loyola remained a bit calmer throughout the game and capitalized not on our mistakes but rather on the few chances we gave them. They had a total of five shots on goal and scored twice. Lots of our chances could have had a different outcome if we had remained a bit calmer.” The coach added, “[But] it was a great game, both on the field and in the stands.”
With the loss, the Kits ended the season at 19-7. The 19 victories are the most the program has had in a season since the 2002 team went 27-0-2 in route to winning the State title. Grillo says he will use this season as a benchmark moving forward. “It was a good season, appropriate for a school with the caliber of Evanston,” said Grillo. “As long as I am in charge of the program I will use this year’s numbers as a benchmark and expect my girls to always at least match this season’s results and do our best to improve them.”
The Kits should be in position for another solid season in 2015, especially after Grillo says they gained confidence in their ability to beat the top teams in the state.
“Despite all the wins and awards and records we broke, the most important aspect that the 2014 team leaves behind is undoubtedly a reborn confidence and awareness that we can compete against any of the top teams in the state [next year and beyond].”