Just about any high school soccer program in the state of Illinois would be happy to trade places with Evanston’s boys, considering that the Wildkits have advanced to the Elite Eight for three consecutive seasons.
But reaching the Final Four remained an elusive goal for coach Franz Calixte’s squad Tuesday night as their season ended — again — at the Class 3A Barrington Supersectional.
Unbeaten Libertyville, ranked 4th in the nation by one website, punched a ticket to the Illinois High School Association’s Final Four by blanking the Wildkits 3-0 and sending ETHS to the sidelines with a final record of 15-5-4.
The Wildcats (19-0-2) spoiled what had been a solid defensive effort by the losers by pushing across two goals in the second half to break the contest open. Libertyville will join Bradley-Bourbonnais, St. Charles North and Naperville North in the Final Four this weekend in an attempt to match the state title the Cats won in 2015.
Evanston mustered only 1 shot on goal in the first 65 minutes of Tuesday’s contest and never really did get untracked on offense. That was unexpected, at least in the mind of Calixte. But the Evanston boss said losing in the supersectional for the third straight year wasn’t a source of frustration — or a reason to call the season a failure.
“It was a good run for us,” Calixte insisted. “I’m happy to be here and to be one step away from going to State. It shows you just how close we were, and it took the No. 4 team in the country to beat us.
“Our counter-attack was there on offense, but it seemed like we always had one bad touch that hurt us. We were a pass away (from connecting in attack mode), or a pass was too high. This is the most potent scoring team I’ve ever had, so it’s sad to go out being blanked like this. We’re an attack-minded team and I was hoping we could sneak one in.
“I love these guys, and we’ll miss all 16 seniors. At the beginning of the year I thought we’d be here, but this was a year of adversity for us and we took the scenic route to get here with 4 losses. At one point they got their confidence back, though, and they peaked at the right time.”
Evanston’s third straight Elite Eight appearance marked a first in the history of the program and the Wildkits again had the toughest path to the Final Four, including back-to-back sectional wins over New Trier and Glenbrook North, two teams seeded ahead of them. And if Libertyville really is the No. 4 team in the United States — according to the website topdrawer.com — then the Kits could point with pride to the fact that they hung close to the Cats for half of the contest.
Evanston’s defenders kept Indiana University recruit Ryan Wittenbrink, who had netted 5 goals himself in a supersectional win over Barrington, under wraps and limited him to just one assist and four shots on goal. And after senior standout Alex Coronel made it his personal mission to mark Wittenbrink for approximately 15 minutes, the Kits settled back into their regular defense and didn’t pay any special attention to the Libertyville senior.
“No. 2 (Wittenbrink) is a very good player, but I’ll take my guys any day. I love these guys. With all the fanfare about this guy we had Alex focus in on him man-to-man, but I refuse to double-team anyone we play. We’re too good for that, and he’s certainly not the one who beat us tonight. The other guys did,” Calixte pointed out.
Wittenbrink’s pass to Evan Rassmussen produced a goal in the 9th minute for the winners, but 5 minutes later the Wildkits threatened to pull even when senior Aidan Tobin broke in alone and took a pass from teammate Colin Thompson.
Tobin pulled the trigger from close range, but Libertyville keeper Thomas Pearson smothered the shot to keep Evanston off the scoreboard. It was the best opportunity the Wildkits had until the final 10 minutes of the game.
“We were hoping we’d get it to 1-1 and then it would have been a different game,” Calixte pointed out. “But that keeper made a great save and you’ve gotta give him credit.
“We were feeling good about where we were at halftime, but when they got that second goal against us, that was pretty big.”
The scoring sequence began at the other end of the field when Libertyville defender blocked a point blank attempt by ETHS senior Nate Pollack. Like all good teams do, the Wildcats counter-attacked and Riley Hoff scored on a low line drive that whistled past Evanston keeper Gavin Rosengarten (12 saves). Libertyville tacked on an insurance goal by Brandon Murphy in the 65th minute.
Graduating seniors Tobin, Thompson and Miguel Jimenez were selected all-sectional by vote of coaches this fall and Pollack, Rosengarten, Nduwayezu Nkurunziza, Niko Kapetan and Issac Diop were named to the all-Central Suburban League South division team.