The Evanston Township High School girls’ soccer team entered the IHSA Class 3A Evanston Regionals having won three out of their last four games. The Wildkits hoped to carry that momentum into their first round matchup with Lincoln Park on May 16.
In that game, the Kits certainly looked ready to make a lengthy postseason run, as they shutout the Lions by a score of 8-0. Goal scorers for the Kits included junior Vanessa Eljaiek and sophomore Keara Kerr, who each scored two goals. Additional goal scorers were junior Wynne Collins, sophomore Rachel Krumholz, freshman Callista O’Connor, and junior Ruby Siegel. Senior Maia Cella chipped in with four assists in the victory that saw the Kits score five goals in the second half to extend a 3-0 lead at the intermission into an 8-0 contest.
With the victory, the Kits improved to 14-5-3 overall and advanced to the Regional title game against Elk Grove Village on May 19. In that game, the Kits made it two postseason shutouts in a row as they beat the Grenadiers by a score of 4-0.
Leading the way for the Kits in that contest was Callista, who scored two goals including one with about 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Her second goal came in the final minutes of the second half to help secure the victory. Maia and Keara also scored to complete the goal scoring for the victors. With the victory, the Kits did not make head coach Stacy Salgado wait very long to capture some hardware, as they won the Regional title in her first year at the helm.
“We always want to celebrate championships, and winning a Regional is a big deal. Some of our major rivals, and conference foes, are not able to call themselves Regional champions,” said Coach Salgado regarding winning Regionals. “I want our program to be in position year in and year out where we expect ourselves to win championships, we have won five straight Regionals, but that does not mean that we minimize the accomplishment. Every year is a new group of girls, and thus a new team, and any title they win is their first, and they deserve to celebrate it.”
The Kits then advanced to the Glenbrook North Sectionals looking for a third straight postseason shutout upon entering a win in a matchup with Loyola Academy in the semifinals on May 23. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards, as the Ramblers squeaked by the Kits by a score of 2-1.
The Ramblers set the tone early, as they scored in the first minute of play. But the Kits bounced back and tied it at 1-1 when sophomore Hadley Bushala scored with just under three and a half minutes to play in the first half. Hadley’s goal came after a Maia shot attempt was stopped by Loyola’s goalkeeper. After retrieving the rebound, Hadley kicked it through the back of the net to tie the game at one apiece.
But unfortunately for the Kits, the next goal came off the foot of Loyola’s Maggie Brett with five minutes and 27 second remaining, giving the Ramblers a 2-1 lead. From there, the Kits were unable to find the back of the net again before time expired, as the Ramblers hung on for the victory, thus ending the Kits’ season on a sour note.
“Always disappointing to lose a game you felt that you should win. The girls played excellent, but Loyola also played well,” said Coach Salgado. “Tough to beat a good team two times in the same season, and Loyola just capitalized on the few mistakes we did make. We certainly had our point-blank shots, Kat (Sehgal) in the first half, Callista in the second half, but both those girls are young and in their first year on Varsity, and I fully expect them to finish those same opportunities in the future.”
The Coach added, “I really feel for the seniors, Maia put in one of her best efforts, created the first goal, and multiple other opportunities, and Lauren and Emma were solid against a dangerous Loyola forward pairing.”
In coming up just short against the Ramblers, the Kits end their season with an overall record of 15-6-3. Even though the Kits came up short in the postseason, the season was still a success according to Salgado. “Overall, our team had a very successful year. We won a Regional title, earned the No. 2 seed in the toughest sectional in the State, beat local rivals such as Loyola and GBS,” said Salgado. “We had a fantastic start to the year, but hit a little of a rough patch in the middle of the season where we struggled to finish on our goal scoring chances and had a lot of girls that typically played big minutes struggle with injuries. This resulted in a few 1-0 losses and ties that could have been wins, but the girls never got down on themselves and we ended the year strong,” explained Salgado. “Our overall record was 15-6-3, but two of our losses were in penalty kick shootouts, and all of our losses were to teams ranked in the Top 15 by most of the publications.”
Looking ahead to next season, there is reason to be excited based on the strong postseason performances from a number of younger players including Callista, Hadley, and Keara, among others. “We were very young this year, we are losing six seniors, but only three that started and played significant minutes. My assistant coach and I will be in our second season together with the program. We should have the brunt of our roster and most of our offensive firepower back next year,” explained Salgado. “Most of our minutes could go to seniors and juniors, and any underclassmen able to break into the regular rotation will be a special player. Everyone will be a year older and more comfortable within the team and running our system.” The Coach added, “The comments and emotions of the girls after the Loyola Sectional loss told me all I need to know about the girls’ motivation for next season. They really felt that they lost a game they should have won, and they will carry that disappointment forward with them as they train and prepare to be better next time.”
The Coach continued, “Maia was a generational player, and coaching her for the last three seasons has been an honor. She was part of a senior class that helped to turn this program around, and get us back to the stature we had in the 90’s and early 2000’s. We will miss Maia, but this team is hungry to begin their Spring season now, and we hope to be able to set the realistic goals of winning championships, including a State title, in 2018.”