Opposing teams compiling a scouting report on Evanston’s girls soccer team this spring should recognize one significant warning sign.

Any time you see Jocelyn Leigh talking to herself – watch out.

Leigh’s self-imposed pep talk produced a career-high four goals, all of them coming in the second half Wednesday night as the Wildkits blanked Highland Park 6-0 in their season debut at Lazier Field.

Maddy Varela delivers a scoring header in the first half of Evanston’s 6-0 victory over Highland Park on Wednesday, March 15. Credit: @ETHSports Twitter

After netting a team-high 27 goals to lead Evanston’s march to the Final Four last year, it didn’t seem possible that Leigh could raise her game to another level already. But with new teammates to work with on offense, it still only took the junior forward a half to find the back of the net.

She talked herself into a career-best performance that was just two goals shy of the single game school record set by the program’s all-time leading scorer, Annette Kent. Kent scored six goals in a 1997 contest against Waukegan.

Evanston was nursing a 1-0 halftime lead, courtesy of sophomore Maddy Varela’s first varsity goal in the 11th minute, when Leigh broke loose. She dribbled down the left side to bang home a shot past Highland Park keeper Anna Chabot in the 45th minute, tallied on a breakaway pass from Adriana Merriam in the 47th and added an unassisted goal in the 63rd minute.

She picked up an assist on a goal by Shayna Da Silva and finished off the scoring barrage with another goal in the 76th minute before taking a well-earned rest on the bench. It was an explosive half for a player who already had a reputation for scoring in bunches as a sophomore.

“This was a really good game for me,” Leigh said. “I had a talk with the coaches [during preseason workouts] and they talked about me not putting too much pressure on myself, that we had other players who were talented and could score. Obviously, I still want to be one of the leaders on this team – and I can be hard on myself at times.

“My first couple of touches tonight weren’t good and I missed a lot of shots in the first half. Instead of getting down on myself, I just reminded myself that I still had another half to go. I talked myself out of the slump I was in and I’m not sure that’s something I could have done last year. I’ve really gotten better at it, trying to focus on what I’m doing well and not on what I’m not doing.

“After losing so many seniors [to graduation] from last year I wasn’t sure what to expect this year. But I got support from my teammates with so many great through passes, and all of the underclass players played amazing tonight. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of eagerness to go all out all over the field from the younger girls, and we have great leadership from the returning players too. If we all come together, we can do well this year.”

Evanston’s new-look defense – a unit consisting of senior Jordin Kadiri, senior Molly Riley, senior Anna Bergmann and sophomore Maddy Ball – wasn’t tested at all in the 2023 debut.

Highland Park didn’t have possession long enough to even put a single shot on goal until there were less than 3 minutes left in the game, when ETHS keeper Ariel Kite recorded her only save.

But Wildkit head coach Stacy Salgado knows that while the defense is a work in progress, the sky’s the limit for her team’s potential on offense.

Especially when Leigh shifts into high gear.

“Jocelyn missed a couple of shots in the first half. But once she scored, I knew she’d start flowing,” Salgado said. “And it’s a wonderful skill to have when you know just what you need to say to yourself to get you into the game. She didn’t get discouraged and take herself out of the game. She just kept trying.

“Jocelyn became more and more comfortable [with her new teammates] and we connected a lot better on offense as the game progressed. Overall, it was a good game for us. We had moments of brilliance out there tonight, but we still have some things we need to work on too.”

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  1. As grandma of Maddy Varela, who started her Varsity career on the ETHS soccer team and scored her 1st goal in their game against Highland Park, I was overjoyed–for her as well as the team! I look forward to a very successful season. “ETHS, we will fight for you!”