Loyola hits on all cylinders, tops St. Rita Upperclassmen lead way in 6-0 Chicago Catholic cross-over win
By Michael Wojtychiw
GLENVIEW -- The 2021 boys spring season is one that nobody has ever seen before. Many schools will primarily play only conference games and there are no state playoffs for the boys.
The importance of winning conference becomes just as important, if not more so, than in previous seasons.
Coming into Tuesday’s Chicago Catholic League cross-over, Loyola had knocked some rust off in its first game of the year, a 5-0 win over Taft, while St. Rita had yet to play on the young season. In the end, the Ramblers came out on top, defeating the visiting Mustangs 6-0 at the Ramblers' Munz campus in Glenview.
Despite the schools being in the same division in the Catholic League in other sports, the two aren't in the same soccer division. In fact, none of the players from either school had faced their opponent during their four-year high school careers. A cursory glance showed the programs had not played each other since at least 2015.
"It's really important to get off to a good start (to the season)," Loyola's Tommy Zipprich said.
"You look at this year, there's no state tournament, so our main goal is to win conference. Our goal we came up with as a team is to go undefeated this season, but our main goal is to win conference.
"Before the game, we were talking, and we're not going to let our foot off the gas. We're going to make it hard for people."
"It's tough playing against a team like Loyola, a tough (Class) 3A school," said first-year St. Rita coach Diego Garcia. "The boys aren't used to playing tough teams like this. I don't think they've played a tough team like this in three or four years. So, for me, I look at this as a learning experience."
The Ramblers, who are ranked 10th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, came into the season with double-digit varsity returnees. Five player of those players, seniors Zipprich, Oscar Blazer and Michael Sullivan and juniors Alex Ainsworth and Niko Douvalakis, are four-year varsity veterans.
It's that returning power that Loyola coach Baer Fisher feels will keep his squad in most of the games they play and help them fight for a conference title.
"We've got 15 returning varsity players and some of these guys have been on varsity since their freshman year," Fisher said. "This is by far our oldest squad, possibly our most talented squad, and we're so excited for this season.
"Our goal is to keep getting better and better and improving on each performance, and we've done that so far in our two matches we've played."
Loyola peppered St. Rita goalie Colin Corum in the first 16 minutes and also got three corner opportunities.
Soon after Loyola senior Dylan Gripman got things rolling for the Ramblers.
He broke the ice with a goal with 23 minutes, 30 seconds remaining on the first half clock.
After St. Rita's Corum left the game for good with an injury and was replaced by Gerardo Marmolejo, Gripman completed his brace 10:57 after his first goal to his squad up 2-0.
"The first one, we had a nice combination play in the middle, I laid it in to Ryan (Leider), who gave it back to me and I was able to get it in," Gripman said. "On the second one, Mario (Hrvojevic) had a free kick. I went towards the goal, and I just tapped it in after the goalie let it go in front."
Zipprich made it 3-0 Loyola four seconds before the half. The Lehigh soccer recruit, who was a key member of the Loyola basketball team this winter, pulled off an impressive double after the Ramblers' season-opening win over Taft -- he played in the basketball team's season finale that afternoon.
Playing basketball leading into the soccer season helped Zipprich, even if some tired legs did come about in the early going.
"Basketball conditioning helped me for sure, but I've always thought of it the other way around, where soccer conditioning prepares me for basketball, because I'm in my best shape from soccer," he said. "I started adding soccer practice towards the end of the basketball season, especially the last week, making to every soccer practice. But I wouldn't have been able to do it without both coaches' support."
Unlike the Ramblers, St. Rita is in a bit of a transition period.
Due to the pandemic and a host of other factors, the program was able to only field one level this year. The Mustangs have multiple underclassmen playing up on varsity this year, as well as a handful of juniors in the starting lineup.
On top of that, the Mustangs are breaking in a new coach Garcia. He came to the school after leading the Nazareth Academy girls program the last couple years.
"I'm excited for the opportunity," Garcia said. "I'm used to these first games, and it's exciting because now you get to learn who plays where, what we can work on in training. Now we can really focus on what we can improve. on."
Garcia's team, which is coming off of Chicago Catholic League Green Division and regional titles in 2019, had a bit of trouble adjusting to the Ramblers' play, size and experience but as the game went on became more comfortable with their play.
That comfort level somewhat vanished in the beginning of the second half. The Ramblers scored twice in the half's first seven minutes thanks to goals by Mario Hrvojevic and Frank Miedema.
A lot of Loyola's success in putting the ball in the back of the net comes from their ability to go toward goal at all times and be there for rebounds and second-chance attempts.
"We have a lot of energy this year and have been wanting to play for so long," Gripman said. "We want to score. So every opportunity we get, especially close to goal, we're going to try to get on the ball."
Jack Chalen finished the game's scoring with a little over nine minutes remaining.
Despite the loss and his team's struggles to convert on opportunities, Garcia is happy with what he saw from St. Rita in its first game, especially with having to essentially start anew.
"There were some areas where we did well in countering, we were pretty decent when we had our chances, but it's a whole different style," Garcia said. "I let them know not to be intimidated. They adapted well, knowing they had to finish well, especially at the end. I just wish it would have happened earlier, but they'll get there."
St. Rita GK - Colin Corum D - Elias Morris D - Luis Salgado D - Emilio Alvarez D - Isaac Garza D - Osvaldo Ruiz D - Brendan Gleeson MF - Aidan Breslin MF - Chuy Flores MF - George Herman F - David Auw
Loyola GK - Alex Ainsworth D - Niko Douvalakis D - Mario Hrvojevic D - Ryan Leider D - John Phillips D - Andrew Newton MF - Colin Redmond MF - Michael Sullivan MF/F - Tommy Zipprich F - Frank Miedema F - Dylan Gripman
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match - Dylan Gripman, sr. F, Loyola
First half Loyola - Dylan Gripman (Ryan Leider), 23:30 Loyola – Gripman (unassisted), 12:33 Loyola - Tommy Zipprich (unassisted), 0:04
Second half Loyola - Mario Hrvojevic (unassisted), 38:07 Loyola - Frank Miedema (unassisted), 33:56 Loyola – Jack Chalen (unassisted), 21:18