Evanston’s girls soccer team played with the best team in the state of Illinois for 38 minutes Tuesday night in the semifinals of the Class 3A Glenbrook South Sectional tournament.
But playing with New Trier — and actually beating the Trevians — aren’t the same thing.
Unbeaten New Trier scored the only goal it really needed two minutes before halftime, then added two more goals in the second half and eliminated Evanston from postseason play with a 3-0 defeat. The Trevians, who have designs on reaching the Class 3A state championship game for the fifth year in a row, improved to 21-0-2 on the season while the Wildkits bowed out with a final mark of 14-8-3.
The loss ended a roller coaster ride of a season for the Kits in Stacy Salgado’s second year as head coach. Injuries put the program’s top 2 goalies on the disabled list for extended portions of the season, Salgado wound up starting 2 freshmen on defense, and constant changes in the lineup led to a lack of scoring chemistry. The Wildkits were shut out 9 times this spring.
Even with all of that adversity, Evanston turned in a brilliant defensive performance over the first 38 minutes Tuesday until a costly turnover led to a goal by Emma Weaver with 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining in the first half.
Weaver gained possession at about the 20 yard line, dribbled in and beat ETHS sophomore goalie Sylvi Imrem to break a scoreless deadlock. The Trevians had possession on Evanston’s half of the field for almost the entire first half, but time and time again the Wildkits denied them until that one costly mistake.
New Trier was repulsed on four corner kick attempts, as senior Vanessa Eljaiek won 50-50 balls in the air repeatedly. Junior Kat Seghal broke up a near breakaway in the 13th minute when she managed to get a foot in front of New Trier’s streaking Lily Conley on another dangerous chance for the Trevs and deflected the ball out of danger.
But for all that effort, the Wildkits were still facing a 1-0 deficit at halftime. New Trier’s Vicky Flannagan scored twice in the second half to give New Trier its second win in as many tries against their rivals this season.
Evanston mustered only 4 shots on goal, all of them handled easily by Trevian keeper Meghan Dwyer.
“We did have more opportunities (on offense) than the first time we played them, but we needed to put them back on their heels a little more than we did,” Salgado said. “I think if we had gotten to halftime at 0-0, we would have come out that much stronger in the second half. The game could’ve gone differently and that was the only mistake we made on defense in the first half.
“New Trier is a consistently solid team. They play with a lot of confidence because they know what it takes to win (3 straight state titles before last year’s state runnerup finish).”
Avery Ackman, one of four senior starters for the Wildkits, didn’t take much consolation from the fact that the Class of 2018 did manage to score a win over the Trevians two years ago.
“They are a beatable team, and we had to look at this as an opportunity tonight,” Ackman said. “A win over them would have been phenomenal. But I really think it’s more of a mental game than a physical game when we play New Trier, and we haven’t been able to pull one out against them. We should have beaten them last year. But we go into games against them with the mentality that we’re gonna lose, and New Trier is so confident that it gets into our heads. When we talk about playing against them, I think it intimidates some of our girls.
“We could have competed with them a lot better tonight.”
The graduation of seniors Ackman, Eljaiek, Ruby Siegel and Katy Donati will leave holes to fill in the starting lineup next spring and the Kits will also miss classmates Meg Rogan and Wynne Collins. Ackman acknowledged Tuesday that the resume could have looked better on paper after the season-ending loss.
“Overall, I think our season was a lot better than our record showed,” she said. “We lost some games we should have won, that’s true. But as a team we had a lot of changes in the lineup, and for all that we had to face with the injuries and everything, I thought we pulled it out pretty well. It didn’t take people long to realize that we all had to make sacrifices for the team, especially with our goalie situation.”
Salgado, who joined the coaching staff when the seniors were freshmen, felt a special attachment for the Class of 2018.
“This senior class was my first group, and it’s fun to see how much they’ve gained confidence and how much they’ve grown as players,” said the ETHS coach.