Ruby Siegel has played a key role anchoring the defensive unit for the Evanston girls soccer team for the past two seasons.

But up until this week, Siegel has never been THE last line of defense for the Wildkits — all by herself.

Pressed into duty as an emergency goalkeeper, Siegel responded with her second straight shutout and 8 saves Saturday as the Wildkits played Naperville North to a 0-0 draw in the opening round of the North Shore Invitational tournament.

Injuries to Evanston’s starting keeper, freshman Caitlin Fitzpatrick, and sophomore backup Sylvi Imrem forced ETHS head coach Stacy Salgado to dig deep for a suitable replacement following a spring break trip to South Carolina. Imrem has been sidelined since the opening week of the season with a severely sprained ankle and isn’t expected to return for another 2 weeks, while Fitzpatrick realized after returning home to Evanston that her finger was broken — not just jammed — and had surgery on the joint this week. She might be out for as many as 6 to 8 weeks.

Salgado didn’t have a Plan C or a younger player in the program ready to step in at that crucial spot. So she dialed Siegel’s number, and the senior stepped up to the challenge.

Not bad for someone who hasn’t played in the net since her days playing Under-10 soccer.

“To be honest, it was really a random choice,” Salgado admitted. “Ruby’s been one of the first people to step in when we do drills and she’s one of the most knowledgeable players we have. I know it took her by surprise, but she’s been up for the challenge. It’s not ideal, but we’ve tried to make the most of it.

“She showed confidence back there today and I think that really helped the other players, and of course the whole team has been very supportive of her. She’s always been so solid as a center back and she reads the game so well. She’s also good in the air, and those are strengths for someone playing goalie.”

Siegel’s poise under pressure was obvious especially in dead ball situations, and she refused to fold despite the fact that the Huskies dialed up their offense in the second half and put a half dozen shots on goal before settling for a tie.

Evanston, now 4-3-1 overall, will host Hinsdale Central in a second round tournament game Monday at 6. Hinsdale blanked Mundelein Carmel 1-0 in other pool play action on Saturday.

“We needed someone back there and I have the communication background (as the defensive leader),” Siegel explained. “Coach asked me, and it’s a team sport so I said sure. It’s actually easier to communicate with the defense when you’re standing still like goalies do, and not moving around so much. Coach Neil (Levin) trained me and helped me get ready this week, but it’s definitely scary being back there.

“I like the communication aspect of playing goalie because I’m a really big talker back there. It’s a new leadership role for me, and the best part is when the ball is on the other side of the field — and I don’t have to do anything.
“And I can’t wait for the other girls to come back!”

Siegel was only forced to handle a couple of direct kicks in a shutout win over Vernon Hills earlier in the week, but was tested often in the second half Saturday. Stellar defensive play by junior Annika DeStefano and freshman Ryann Lucas kept the Huskies at bay for most of the game, but Siegel came up big with stops against Naperville’s Megan Benmore (52nd minute), Taylor Klaiber (63rd minute) and Benmore again (66th minute).

“I thought our communication and shifting were there today on defense, and Katy Donati really stepped up for us in the back, too,” praised Salgado. “We haven’t started many freshmen on defense here, but Ryann doesn’t make rookie mistakes and she doesn’t play like a freshman. She’s solid — she’s not just good for a freshman. And she’s so fit she can run from end line to end line. She’s also very calm on the ball.”

Evanston did earn a point in the team standings for the tournament with the draw. The Wildkits dropped out of the PepsiCo Tournament to participate in the North Shore event, even though it might force them to play either co-hosts Loyola Academy or New Trier for a potential third time this season.

“This tournament just feels more local, even though we might face some of those teams again,” Salgado said. “It’s easier to follow and it’s easier to manage, and the seeding is done ahead of time (unlike the PepsiCo, where coaches had to consult online to find out when their next games and opponents were scheduled).”