Maurizio Grillo has always recognized the need for speed in girls soccer. And for the Evanston girls program to take the next step after winning 19 games last year, the Wildkits need to keep up with elite teams like defending Class 3A state champion New Trier and Loyola Academy who feature fast forwards every season.
A re-tooled defense with a focus on speed is being counted on to help the Kits get over the next hurdle after they lost to Loyola 2-1 in the sectional semifinals last year. Evanston’s 19-7 won-loss record marked the most wins since 2002 and more than doubled the win total from the previous season, Grillo’s first at the helm.
Evanston must replace 7 graduated seniors and it all starts on defense for Grillo, who plans to stick with a 4-3-3 alignment.
“The defense is the unit that we’re still working on right now,” said the coach prior to Thursday’s season opener against Lakes. “We do have two returning starters back in the middle in (all-Central Suburban League South selection) Kate Kremin and Julia Kenney. Now we’re working on the flanks. I don’t know if we’ll be able to repeat what we did last year (15 shutout wins). We may have to redesign the defense some.”
Candidates for those positions include one of three freshmen who’ll open the season on the varsity roster, Avery Ackman, along with senior Lina Velcheva, senior Katie Christensen and sophomore Emma Dzwierzynski.
“We are looking for speed,” Grillo said. “Most high school teams put a player at forward if they have good speed. When you look long-term at the opponents we could face in the sectional, like New Trier and Loyola, they all have incredible speed. They have super fast strikers — and we need to match that. We have to be able to beat them both to go anywhere in the state tournament. But we also have to take it one game at a time during the season, because if you fail in the early games, that means a bad ranking (seed) and possibly having to play them in the regional instead of the sectional.
“When we lost to Loyola in the sectional last year, we all looked at each other and said we can’t wait for the chance to do this again. That’s the taste that’s in everyone’s mouth right now. We feel like we know what we have to do, and I have noticed an overall increase in our talent since I came here. That’s why we’re keeping so many girls on the roster (25).”
Besides Kremin, the Kits return three other all-conference players in senior midfielder Maureen Kerr — a Creighton University recruit — plus junior midfielder Alex Berkley and sophomore forward Maia Cella, who led the team in scoring as a freshman with 15 goals.
The goalie responsible for those 15 shutouts, Olivia Post, is back for her senior season but will face a stiff challenge from junior Sheridan Cleave.
Another headliner could be senior midfielder Emily Midyan, who rates among the most improved players on the team after earning a Division 1 scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh following an eye-catching performance in the Panthers’ camp this summer. “Emily has looked really good in practice so far,” Grillo said. “Her vision is what stands out about her. Alex and Maia tend to play more direct, while Emily sees things in a different way if we need that. I think Pitt was impressed with her defensive skills, too.”
Two freshmen to watch besides Ackman are Ruby Siegel, a defender, and forward Vanessa Eljaiek. “All three of them are talented enough to be with the varsity, and I’m confident that each one of them will leave a mark this season,” Grillo said.
Junior Nora Mertz figures to challenge for playing time in the midfield and junior K’tyah Point Du Jour will be a factor on defense, too. Junior Kira Favakeh will seek increased minutes at forward after serving as a backup last year, and newcomer Caitlyn Dalton — a junior transfer from New Trier — is another player who could make an impact on defense.
Source: ETHS Sports Information