New Trier’s soccer team struck with the urgency of a sudden spring rainstorm Friday night in Park Ridge.
The two-time defending Class 3A state champions scored twice in the first 11 minutes of the Maine South Sectional tournament championship game and delivered an early knockout blow in a battle of girls soccer heavyweights versus Evanston.
Both New Trier goals came on restarts — a corner kick and a throw-in — and the Wildkits never really recovered in an eventual 3-0 season-ending loss.
Evanston, after splitting two regular season games with their arch-rivals, went to the sidelines with a final record of 20-4-3. New Trier advanced to its own super-sectional with a 23-3-1 mark.
“New Trier made it a point to build back up again after we beat them, and they showed how much they wanted to win tonight,” said Evanston coach Maurizio Grillo. “Wow, what a team! We were slapped in the face twice at the start of the game and, as much as it pains me to say it, we didn’t have a chance after that.
“The experience of a state champion is what beat us tonight. New Trier was driven, and they didn’t make a single mistake. They played like the champions that they are.”
Co-captain Alex Berkley, one of 6 senior starters for ETHS, agreed with her coach.
“I think we were nervous,” said the senior midfielder. “New Trier’s been in this position it seems like every year, and we haven’t. They came out strong — we started to freak out — and they took advantage of that.
“New Trier’s not better than us, though. They just looked better tonight. We just shut down after they scored those first two goals, and it was hard to get the momentum back.”
The Trevians scored as many goals in the first 11 minutes Friday as they did in the first two matchups combined between the two teams, a 2-1 New Trier tournament win in 2 overtimes, and a 1-0 Evanston victory that decided the Central Suburban League South division championship.
New Trier’s Syd Parker flicked a header past ETHS goalie Sheridan Cleave (8 saves) off a corner kick from Kelly Maday with 32 minutes, 4 seconds left in the first half. Three minutes later, the usually reliable Wildkit defense let a throw-in from Caroline Iserloth roll into the goal crease and Natalie Laser’s boot made it 2-0.
New Trier also scored on another restart in the second half, a corner play from Maday to Haley Yamada in the 54th minute. The winners dominated the time of possession in both halves and Evanston only put 4 shots on goal in 80 minutes.
Back-to-back “soft” shots by Caitlyn Dalton and Keara Kerr were gathered in easily by Trevs’ keeper Dani Kaufman, and a 30-yard free kick by Berkley early in the second half didn’t find the back of the net, either.
Evanston’s offense was slowed by the loss of two players. Sophomore Vanessa Eljaiek, one of the team’s best goal scorers, will require knee surgery in June and didn’t play over the last 3 weeks of the season. And freshman forward Hadley Bushala was benched with a one-game automatic suspension (according to Illinois High School Association rules) after picking up a red card in the sectional semifinal victory over Loyola.
The loss signaled the end of an era for senior starters Berkley, Cleave, Dalton, Kira Favakeh, Kate Kremin and Julia Kenney. It’s also the end of the Grillo Era, as the head coach announced midway through the season that he will move to New York with his wife this summer.
Grillo guided the Kits to 65 wins against 26 losses and 9 ties in his 4 years as head coach. Evanston won three regional championships and one conference crown during his tenure.
More significant to the Italian native, however, was the fact that he was able to pump some pride into the girls program after he took over.
“Coach Grillo will be a huge loss because he inspired all of us so much,” Berkley said. “He’s the one who inspired us to always play for each other. He’s a great coach.
“There’s so much pride in the younger girls — especially the freshmen — and the program is only going to go up from here. Next year they should at least be in this spot (sectional finals) again if they don’t come out and win State.
“This will be a season that people will remember even though we didn’t make it to State. We beat New Trier, we beat Loyola and we won the conference. And next year all of those teams should be scared to play Evanston again.”
“It’s a bittersweet thing for me to leave here,” Grillo admitted. “But this isn’t about me, it’s about the girls. They definitely have raised the level of play in the last 4 years at Evanston. The talent coming up in the program is unreal. I anticipate they could have as many as 3 of the incoming freshmen starting next year, and with luck they’ll be back here and win this game.
“What am I most proud of? The fact that the parents are proud of their players, and the players are proud to wear that (Evanston) shirt. That’s what lets me leave full of joy, because we didn’t have that kind of pride and fight my first season here. But we fought ‘til the end tonight and having restored that to the school is something I’ll always remember.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.