No one outside the city of Chicago would consider Lane Tech a state soccer power.

But the Champions clearly have Evanston’s number. Lane Tech’s girls scored midway through the first half Tuesday and hung on to pin a 1-0 loss on top-seeded Evanston in the semifinals of the Class 3A Sectional tournament held at Lazier Field.

The ETHS girls varsity soccer team is seen ahead of its matchup against Lane Tech. Credit: eths_girls_soccer Instagram

That loss came almost seven months to the day after Lane’s boys eliminated ETHS, the No. 2 sectional seed, in the regional championship game, also played on Evanston’s home turf.

Champions goalkeeper Cynthia Waller chalked up a dozen saves – nine in the first half – to send the Wildkits to the sidelines with a final won-loss record of 19-3-1. Lane Tech will take a 15-4-2 mark into the title game on Friday against New Trier, a 1-0 winner in two overtimes against Loyola Academy in the second semifinal.

Lots of scoring chances

Evanston had so many scoring opportunities in the first half that it seemed to the players in the halftime huddle – and to Wildkit fans in the stands – that a game-tying score was inevitable.

But sometimes the inevitable never actually happens. “We’ve always seemed to find a way to get one in – but not today,” said a somber Evanston head coach, Stacy Salgado.

“Their goalie made some nice saves, for sure, but we’ve faced other goalies who were that good. We just weren’t able to finish our opportunities. If one of those
early opportunities had fallen, it would’ve been a far different game. “Lane Tech was determined on defense. They threw their bodies in there [blocking shots] and
they’re a good team. I think our team was very capable of a deep run this year [in the state tournament]. We truly believed we could make something happen. But one game can knock you out.”

The sense of déjà vu between the two schools was only on the surface. Evanston’s boys squad was caught looking past Lane in that matchup, while the girls followed Salgado’s philosophy of respecting the opponent immediately in front of them.

They just couldn’t solve the rangy (5-foot, 10-inch) sophomore goalie in the net for the
visitors. “Every game, we go into it with the mindset of respecting the other team, no matter if they’re a ranked team or a bad team,” said ETHS senior co-captain Adriana Merriam. “We always try to play to our level, to elevate our level of play and not play ’down’ to the other team. We knew they were a good team. We tried to play our game. It just didn’t work out.

“We faced a goalie who was taller when we were in Iowa, but she wasn’t very good. This girl was good and we played the ball right to her a lot. We needed to do a better job of reading her and finishing our opportunities, especially on our corner kicks.”

Seven corner restarts

Evanston’s dominance for most of the game resulted in seven corner restarts for the Wildkits, and normally those chances are crucial in postseason play. Merriam, a senior with a lethal left foot on those corners, started all of those plays – but no one finished.
“If we could have read her [goalie Waller’s] weaknesses a little better, we could have played the ball behind her off the corners better,” said Merriam. “She’s one of the better goalies we’ve gone up against. She doesn’t do Ariel [ETHS keeper Ariel Kite] things, but she’s a good one.”

Kite, an All-State goalie candidate, saw her string of five straight shutouts snapped in the 19th minute of the contest. The Wildkits turned the ball over when Lane’s Jackson Caffey stole the ball from an Evanston defender, made a 40-yard run down the sidelines and set up Grace Carman’s shot past Kite into the right lower corner.
That was the only shot the visitors put on goal in the first half. But it was enough to end the careers of eight Evanston seniors, who were part of a remarkable 40 victories over a two-year stretch, including last year’s run to the Final Four.

“Our crosses [passes] were not exactly where we need them to be, and our shots were high when they needed to be low. Sometimes, that happens,” added Salgado.

It won’t be easy to replace seniors Merriam, Kite, Anna Bergmann, Molly Riley, Lily Shure, Eva Francis, Jordin Kadiri and Shayna DaSilva, on the field or off.

“These seniors were a very special group, especially with their leadership,” said the head coach. “They bonded on the field, they were good friends off the field and they were very inclusive with the younger players too. They expected our team to work hard, and then they went out and worked even harder.”

Merriam, the Baylor-bound midfielder, played the entire game with a bad cold and had to be helped off the field with about six minutes left, suffering from heat and dehydration. Like the other seniors, she left it all on the Lazier turf.

“Obviously, I’m very proud of everything we’ve done as a team,” Merriam said. “Especially with all the rebuilding we had to do after we graduated 13 or 14 seniors last year. I’m extremely proud of every single one of these girls. Forty wins doesn’t come easily, and I really think the new girls came in and implemented the right [winning] mentality really well. They did a really good job, with the seniors as the leaders.”

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  1. What a joy it has been to follow and support this team!
    Many more successes in life lie before them. Thanks to you all!