Evanston won its sixth straight regional soccer championship Friday night at Lazier Field.
But you could tell by the postgame celebration that such an accomplishment is getting tougher every season — and that the Wildkit girls don’t take winning for granted in the postseason no matter how high they’re seeded.
Freshman Brealyn Viamille scored just 71 seconds before halftime and that was enough to lift the Kits to a 1-0 victory over Lane Tech. Evanston will take a 14-5-2 record in the Class 3A sectional semifinals next Tuesday at New Trier.
Coach Stacy Salgado’s squad will meet Glenbrook South at 7 p.m. New Trier and Maine South will meet in the other sectional semifinal.
Genuine excitement was evident when Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino awarded the regional championship plaque, and that excitement wasn’t just because the 6 freshmen on the varsity roster were enjoying that championship experience for the first time.
Conquering a Lane Tech team that was fresh off winning its fifth straight Chicago city championship was no easy feat. But the Kits responded with one of their best defensive efforts of the season and sent the Indians home with a final record of 18-4-1.
Lane’s two “official” losses came to suburban toughies New Trier and Stevenson this spring. The other? A forfeit loss to Evanston when the Chicago school was on spring break and couldn’t field a full team while participating in the North Shore Invitational tournament.
The expansion to 3 classes by the Illinois High School Association means that regional tournament blowouts — even in title games — are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
“It’s not easy to win a regional and yes, it‘s tougher than when I played here,” Salgado suggested. “Winning a regional is a big deal and it was one of the goals we had for this season. It’s really fun to be able to do it at Lazier Field, too.
“We didn’t show up for the first 10 minutes but after that we were aggressive. It took us awhile to adjust, but the girls were able to figure things out.”
Call it high soccer IQ, or just awareness, but the ETHS defensive unit of Katie Petersen, Sarah Sollinger, Carly Menocal and Eloise Gilbert-Bartell constantly beat the visitors to the ball with anticipation and a quick first step and that helped the winners stay in control even through the dialed-up pressure Lane applied after falling behind at halftime.
Add 9 saves by sophomore goalie Caitlin Fitzpatrick and the Lazier Field crowd witnessed the formula for a shutout win.
“I call it awareness and being able to read the game,” said Salgado. “We always want them to be thinking ahead to the next pass and not just be in the moment. That’s something we’ve been stressing to them. We’ve seen glimpses of that from them before, but this was right up there with our best games. KP (Petersen) stepped in and denied one of their better players a lot of possessions.
“Lane Tech is a really good team. It’s really a great accomplishment to win a regional, and I’m so proud of this group.”
Viamille scored the game-winning goal in her second straight postseason game, after teammate Ryann Lucas gained possession just inside midfield and delivered a pass to the speedy freshman. Viamille calmly streaked toward the goal, waited for Lane Tech goalie Brianna Love to come off the line, and then dribbled around her to poke the ball into the back of the net with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the half.
Evanston’s defense wasn’t quite as stout in the second half, but Fitzpatrick was solid in the net. She denied the losers on consecutive shots in the 73rd minute, rejecting a point blank shot by Lane’s Lisa Rios, and then smothering the rebound attempt by All-Stater Grace Dunaway to preserve the lead.