Evanston still hasn’t beaten New Trier in girls soccer since 2002. But the Wildkit girls are getting closer.
Natalie Laser’s “golden goal” with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the first overtime period allowed the Trevians to escape with a 2-1 victory in the semifinals of the PepsiCo Showdown tournament in Northfield Thursday night in a battle of unbeatens.
Two-time defending state champion New Trier is ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today and has only lost twice in the past two years. And Evanston head coach Maurizio Grillo is convinced that his own team ought to be ranked 1A.
New Trier advanced to the title game against Loyola Academy, a 1-0 winner over Hinsdale Central in the other tournament semifinal.
The Wildkits, now 8-1-3 overall, may get as many as three more opportunities this season to take down No. 1. The two teams will play in the same bracket in the Naperville Invitational later this month; will definitely meet in a Central Suburban League South division showdown May 7 at New Trier; and could be matched up again in postseason play.
For now, Grillo’s squad will have to settle for being the first team this year to score a goal on the Trevians. Sophomore forward Vanessa Eljaiek broke that string with a goal in the 28th minute
But New Trier countered with a second half goal by Bina Saipi, and then Laser drilled a shot past Evanston keeper Sheridan Cleave to help the Trevians keep the upper hand in the rivalry. Since winning the state championship in 2002, ETHS has only mustered a pair of scoreless ties versus New Trier in 2003 and again in 2013.
“After this performance tonight, in my opinion there is no more separation between the two teams,” Grillo proclaimed. “We were beating them for the first 60 minutes tonight and I’m proud of the fact that we’re the first team to score on them. And it wasn’t because of luck.
“I feel like it’s just a matter of time now before we beat them. We lost this one because of mental fatigue — it was such an emotional game for both teams — but we were not afraid of them. We kept attacking them and the way we played tells me a lot about the future. I don’t think we were outplayed. We held our own tonight, and hopefully we can beat them when it matters most.”
Eljaiek’s hustle helped the Kits get on the scoreboard first, in an unusual play that started with a through ball from teammate Caitlyn Dalton. The ball bounded to the 20-yard line, where Eljaiek collided with Trevian goalie Dani Kaufman and both players tumbled to the turf.
Eljaiek never saw the ball go into the back of the net due to the collision. But it glanced off her body, rolled on the turf and crossed the goal line with no other defender in the vicinity.
The sophomore standout paid a price for the score, however, as she suffered an ankle injury that kept her on the sidelines for the remainder of the contest.
“It wasn’t a pretty goal, but it was a goal from the heart. It was a matter of hustle,” Grillo agreed. “I think we made a really big statement here tonight. I don’t think we were outplayed or out-shot, although our shots on goal should have had a little more purpose.”