Stacy Salgado knows what it takes to win a state soccer championship. Stay hungry — and don’t stumble on the small steps.
So far, so good for the first-year Evanston head coach. The Wildkits boosted their season record to 5-0-1 Tuesday night with a 4-0 blanking of Niles North in Skokie.
Maia Cella and Keara Kerr each scored a pair of goals for the Kits in a game that is one of those “small steps.”
Salgado, who started for the 2002 Wildkit state championship team, certainly appreciated earning her first conference victory as the ETHS head coach after replacing Maurizio Grillo at the helm. But she also knows that tougher competition is down the road as the Kits seek to repeat the Central Suburban League South division championship of a year ago.
“I know these girls will be psyched up when we play big games (against league foes like New Trier and Glenbrook South), but I’m almost more worried about the small games like this one,” Salgado said. “We can say we have the talent and skill to win a state championship, but those small little steps and the effort we put in for games like tonight and in practice will be vital, too.
“It feels good to get that first conference win, and especially to get those last two goals, because it showed perseverance on our part. We didn’t utilize our speed up top in the first half, but we found a way to make it work and we became more dangerous in the second half. We have to stay hungry and find ways to finish like we did tonight. That was an issue for us last year, too. We don’t want to get down on ourselves when we’re not scoring and things aren’t going our way like we did against Glenbrook North (0-0 tie). We need to find that (scoring) spark early in games and then keep that momentum.”
Kerr’s first goal midway through the first half, off a cross from freshman Callista O’Connor, was Evanston’s only legitimate scoring chance. But University of Wisconsin recruit Cella found the back of the net in the 45th minute, and both standouts added goals in the final two minutes when they could have shifted to cruise control.
Salgado liked the way the Kits kept the pressure on North goalie Altina Rexhepi (17 saves) right up to the final buzzer. Kerr scored her second goal — a shot that glanced off the far post and behind Rexhepi – with only 10 seconds left on the clock.
Kerr, the younger sister of former Wildkit star Maureen Kerr, forms a formidable 1-2-3 scoring punch in the ETHS 3-forward alignment along with junior Vanessa Eljaiek and sophomore Hadley Bushala. All three players have taken advantage of the opportunity for extended playing time compared to a year ago.
“I think the jump the sophomores (Kerr, Bushala , starting defender Abby Osterlund and top reserve midfielder Katarina Seghal) have made from freshmen to sophomores has really been vital for us so far,” Salgado pointed out. “The confidence they came back with this year has really made a difference for all of them. When you’re a freshman playing with a bunch of seniors, you’re just not as confident, especially after you make a mistake. I think they’re much more willing to take risks this year because now they know that they belong.”
Eljaiek is coming off ACL surgery this summer and plays with a brace strapped to her left leg, but that hasn’t prevented the electric junior from leading Evanston in scoring to date. “V’s endurance isn’t quite there yet, but her technical skills are there,” said the coach.
Joining the creative Cella in the midfield are O’Connor and sophomore Annika DeStefano. Junior Ruby Siegel, who has shifted from an outside position to center, anchors a defensive unit that also includes senior Emma Dzwierzynski, junior Avery Ackman and Osterlund. In goal, freshman Yana Fielkow has earned the starting nod over junior Nina Laurent.
The Kits opened the season with wins over West Chicago (3-1) and Loyola Academy (1-0), then bounced back from that scoreless tie with Glenbrook North to down two Wisconsin teams — Notre Dame (3-1) and De Pere (9-2) — on a spring break trip last week.
“We have everything it takes as a team,” Salgado said. “We have the talent and speed to be dangerous with our forwards. Our midfielders are very skilled — Maia has amazing vision on the field and we’re hoping for big things from Callista, too — and we have our anchor back on defense in Ruby. In the big picture, winning the conference is the first goal. We won it last year and the girls expect to — and really want to — repeat. We just have to stay hungry.”
And take those small steps.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.