Maurizio Grillo’s message to his players once he found out that Evanston would host a sectional soccer tournament this spring was simple.
“There can’t be an Evanston Sectional without Evanston.”
The ETHS coach got his wish Friday in Chicago, as the Wildkits overpowered Northside College Prep 6-0 and captured the Class 3A St. Ignatius Regional championship.
Two goals by freshman Vanessa Eljaiek and one each by Maia Cella, Kira Favakeh, Alex Berkley and Katy Kremin powered the No. 3 seeded Kits to a date next Tuesday at 7 p.m. against either Loyola Academy or Niles North. Evanston will take a 17-5-3 record into that semifinal matchup after winning a regional crown for the fourth time in the past five years.
One more home game at Lazier Field — where the Kits have surrendered only 2 goals in the past 2 seasons — was just what senior co-captain Katie Christensen had in mind.
Two would be even better.
“When there are people in the stands and there’s a lot of hype, that kind of camaraderie really pumps us up. It’s the crowd that does it for us,” Christensen said. “When you do the little things, like make a good pass or block a shot, and your crowd starts screaming, that’s really an advantage. You don’t get that on the road too often.
“This year it seems like all of our big games have been at home and having a lot of people in the stands really helps us focus. And if we get to play Loyola again (the two teams tied 0-0 during the regular season), I think we’ll have a different mindset when we play them this time. We have more of an attacking mindset now and now we don’t think of them as big, bad Loyola. I think that offensive mindset will help us this time.”
Evanston was in attack mode right from the opening kick Friday, against a foe they really didn’t know much about.
Northside Prep, the No. 11 seed, had upset host St. Ignatius 1-0 in the first round and Grillo wasn’t able to get any kind of scouting report on the Mustangs.
“All I really knew about them was that they won a Class 2A sectional last year,” said the Wildkit coach. “So the idea was for us to come out strong and take no chances. That was our only option, just to go out and play, and I think we overwhelmed them a little because of the way we came out strong.
“When we first started out talking about our scoreless streak at home it was a little bit of a joke that first season, but then it got to the second season and it was something we were able to build on. It gave us confidence and I think we really have a home field advantage that we must embrace. We’ll use it to our advantage as much as we can.
“Our field is a little bit bigger than some of the turf fields we play on, so tactically it helps a little. But it’s more of a mental thing for us now.”
Evanston scored twice in the first 10 minutes against the Mustangs, as Cella knocked home a rebound of a Favakeh shot and a minute and a half later, Eljaiek blasted home the second goal with her left foot. Berkley built the halftime advantage to 3-0 with a restart from the 30-yard line that floated over the head of Northside goalie Rachel Stromsta.
Berkley picked up an assist on a corner kick that Eljaiek finished off in the 47th minute, Favakeh got free and scored in the 48th minute, and Kremin’s header off a Maureen Kerr corner boot concluded the scoring in the 51st minute.
Since losing to New Trier 2-0 back on April 28, the Wildkits haven’t lost. One of the reasons is the play of freshman defender Ruby Siegel, who has finally cracked the starting lineup after initially being assigned to the freshman squad following pre-season tryouts.
She sent Grillo an email asking for another chance to play on the varsity — and got it.
“We gave her another chance and she’s slowly earned that starting job,” said the ETHS coach. “Ruby has really good knowledge of the game, and she knows when to take space, when to attack. (Former starter) Caitlyn Dalton was a little more offensive-minded back there, but Ruby gives us something different.”