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Even with a four-goal lead early in the fourth quarter against archrival New Trier, Avery Cummins never stopped hustling on defense Saturday.
Cummins chased New Trier’s goalie from one side of the pool to the other, chewing at least 20 seconds off the shot clock, trying to effect a change of possession and keep the Trevian goalie from initiating any offense. That determined effort didn’t pay off in a steal, but it served as a prime example of the way the Evanston Township High School girls water polo team hangs its hat on its defensive identity.
That wasn’t an effort the Wildkits were able to sustain for long. After beating their rivals for the second time in 48 hours, this time by an 11-7 margin, the Kits ran out of energy in the second game of a “doubleheader” and fell 10-1 to unbeaten Stevenson in the Patriots’ home pool.
Evanston found a second wind to conclude the day with a 12-7 triumph over Mother McAuley a couple of hours later and improved to 12-5-1 on the season.
Stevenson, which earned runner-up honors in the Illinois High School Association state finals last spring, set up the quad so that the Wildkits – a team that had tied them 5-5 earlier in the year, the only blemish on their perfect season record – would face a schedule Saturday with back-to-back games against No. 6-ranked New Trier and No. 1-ranked Stevenson.
The Kits had perhaps 10 minutes rest between matches – hardly enough. Now, ETHS head coach Andy Miner is eager for a rematch with the Patriots. It likely won’t come until the IHSA state finals, depending on the pairings for the state tournament series.
“I’m looking forward to playing them when I know we won’t be exhausted,” said Miner, while acknowledging that the Pats had the right to set up their own quad schedule any way they chose to as hosts for the event. “To some degree the loss today was more us than them. They didn’t do anything we can’t compete against. Games like this can get away from you when you’re tired like that.
“I don’t think anyone will play tougher back-to-back games in the state of Illinois this year. But I’m not worried about the outcomes. We’re here to get better, and strengthen our mental game as a team for the rest of the season. I’m really proud of our effort today.”
Ava Santos-Volpe scored a goal to pull the Wildkits even with the hosts with two minutes, 26 seconds left in the first quarter. Evanston never scored again, and the Patriots tallied twice in the last two minutes of the half to take command at 5-1.
Miner dug deeper into his bench than usual in the second half, to find fresher bodies, but the losers couldn’t get in sync on offense. Stevenson goalie Katie Delaney only had to make a total of four saves.
“Playing back-to-back games like that really takes a physical and emotional toll on the players,” the coach added. “Stevenson plays really aggressive and they take a lot of risks. They’re one of the hardest teams to play because of their transition from defense to offense. But if you can take that away from them, they’re beatable.
“Stevenson forced us into a lot of turnovers on the perimeter – that’s their M.O. – and that feeds right into their game plan.”
Just a couple of days after beating New Trier for the first time since 2015, the Wildkits played even better in the rematch and made it two in a row behind four goals from senior standout Hilda Arellano and two apiece by Cummins and Kat Buruzs.
Evanston and New Trier were tied at three-all at halftime before the Kits broke things open in the third quarter, outscoring the Trevians 6-2. One of those goals came via penalty shot by Arellano.
“I really felt like we played a more complete game against them today, compared to Thursday,” Miner said. “We fell asleep in the third quarter in that game. We knew that if we pressured them early and often, they’d have a hard time doing what they wanted to do.
“That play by Avery was really something. She demanded more of herself in that moment and her effort really fired up our entire bench. Our focus as a program has always been on defense – you don’t want to have to score 14 goals to win a game, after all – and our effort was great today.”
Rare as it is for the Wildkits to beat New Trier twice in a single season, Miner recognizes that the two powers could square off twice more – in the Central Suburban League and sectional tournaments – but indicated that maybe the psychological edge has shifted to the Orange and Blue now.
“I’ve always known that we could beat New Trier, but I think this validates things now for the girls,” he said. “Now they know they can beat them. When we work hard and when we’re prepared, we can beat anyone.
“Especially when we’re not exhausted.”