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When she promoted several underclassmen to the varsity roster in the spring of 2019, Evanston soccer coach Stacy Salgado didn’t know what the future would bring.
Coach Salgado was simply aiming to field the best team – with the best talent – possible at the varsity level.
Then the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, delaying the progress of those talented players and denying them an opportunity to contend for Central Suburban League South division and postseason championships.
Now opportunity’s knocking again, and unlike most of the competition, the Wildkits will put an experienced unit on the field, starting with Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. home opener against Lakes. That experience, in the ultimate team sport where players have to be on the same page to succeed, will be particularly crucial because of the change in schedule.
CSL administrators have decided to limit the amount of travel for all teams this school year, so for the first time soccer teams will play a double round of games against their division foes. That means two – and possibly three in the sectional tournament – meetings with powerful rival New Trier, along with Glenbrook South, Maine South, Glenbrook North, and Niles West.
Coach Salgado can’t wait to meet that challenge.
“We haven’t had as much off-season training as usual, but it’s clear to me that a lot of them have worked hard and they’re pretty prepared,” the coach said. “We have a lot of great individual talent, and just like every year, our job as coaches is to get them to work together.
“It’s really not any different in that regard this year. They just have to commit to each other. The sooner we work together, the stronger we’ll be as a team.”
Seniors Caitlin Fitzpatrick, Josie Hansen, and Ruby Rogers bring experience and leadership as co-captains, and classmates Eloise Gilbert-Bartell and Alyssa Kimmel will also challenge for playing time.
Fitzpatrick, who figures to start at goalkeeper, required hip surgery at the end of her sophomore season and has fully recovered. She has the potential to be one of the best keepers the program has had in years, and she’ll be backed up by sophomores Ariel Kite and Ola Goebel.
“We’re really excited to have Caitlin back, and she seems like she’s ready to go,” Coach Salgado said.
Rogers started some games on defense as a freshman and she and Hansen will serve as solid anchors as defensive-type midfielders.
Juniors make up the bulk of the roster, led by center midfielder Carly Menocal, midfielder Nahla Dominguez, speedy forward Brealyn Viamille, and defenders Lucinda Lindland and Sarah Sollinger.
Others to watch are forwards Sofia Dailey and Nadia Van Den Berg, midfielders Tate Lucas, Stella Tobin, and Shea Ackman, and defenders Shalyn Pryor and Ellie Oif.
Sophomores Shayna DaSilva and Adriana Merriam will battle for playing time at midfield, and freshman Jocelyn Leigh will also look to make an impact in her first varsity season.
“A lot of those juniors got a lot of time as freshmen,” noted Coach Salgado. “This group brings a lot of knowledge to the game.
“Last year it was unfortunate for all of us, especially the seniors, and we were obviously upset to miss out on the season. That would have been a very solid team. But we can’t really look back. We’re just very excited to have something to play for again. We definitely have a purpose.”