WILMETTE -- When it comes to high school sports, the start of a new season also often times means the arrival of a lot of new faces.
Graduations, transfers, and in soccer the allure of playing club soccer (or vice versa), means rosters might look nothing like they did the year previous.
Both Lane and Loyola saw a lot of offensive firepower graduate. The Ramblers, ranked 14th in the season-opening Chicagoland Soccer First 50 state-wide poll, lost All-State players Grace Ehlert and Kathryn Diblik. No. 32 Lane also lost a pair of Chicagoland Soccer All-Staters in Scout Murray and Jocelyn Ramirez.
Lane’s new manager Robert Harkness will have to deal with the team personnel. The former assistant took over for Michelle Vale, who moved into an assistant principal’s position at Lake View.
“There’s obviously a bit of rust and we lost 11-12 seniors, but I thought that they played really well,” Harkness said. “With all these new players, it’s been a lot of fun so far, but it’s also been difficult because we have so many high-quality players. So, we’re having difficulty trying to figure out where we want to put everybody, figure out what positions they’re best at.
“… They’re extremely talented. Maximizing their abilities has been the biggest challenge, because there are so many good players on our team.”
After pushing the game back a day due to the weather, both teams shook off rust and got their new players involved. The game ended in a 0–0 draw in a chilly afternoon game Tuesday at Loyola’s Wilmette Campus.
Pretty much every season Loyola has a stout defense. That fact is no more evident than this year as the team welcomes back three starters to the D: All-Stater Emily Pikarski; Ellianna Seeley; and Maria Nikas. They’ll protect returning All-State keeper Ellie Bradley.
“We’re very fortunate that when we looked at the players we were returning that we did have a lot of the backline coming back. They were definitely a key to last year’s success,” Loyola manager Shannon Hartinger said. “I think they’ve carried that over into this year, and they’ve been phenomenal leaders on the field too.”
“Ellie Seeley, Maria Nikas and I have played together for a really long time and we know how to communicate well and how to control the back,” Pikarski said. “When we do that, it helps the people up-front know that they have a safe line behind them that they can play back to.”
That experience was none the more evident than in the second half when Lane started to apply more pressure on the Loyola defense.
Lane turned the tables on the Ramblers and started to gain their offensive footing a bit more after halftime.
“Part of it was first-game jitters,” Lane’s Mary Rau said. “But part of it’s also just how hard we want to win. Sometimes we go into a game not realizing how bad we want to win, but once we started getting pushed around and heard all the smack talk, it motivated us a bit more.”
Loyola dug in.
“Our fitness and physicality really helped us there in the second half,” Pikarski said. “A lot of us work on on our own so that we can support each other when we get on the field.”
For Hartinger and her staff, however, it was a welcome sight to see her defense stand tall when their opponent pushed closer to their net.
“One of the things we talked about and that we struggled with in the second half was our transition in the midfield defensively,” she said. “I think we left ourselves exposed … in some pockets when we might have had them locked in or thought we did, but we were just a step late.
“That’s something we’ll look to fix in training, to get tighter and put others under pressure so they can’t get the one pass to get out of it.”
Even though her squad didn’t put a tally up on the scoreboard, the fifth-year Loyola coach was happy with what she saw from her squad, especially for a season-opener.
“It was great to be able to get the first game under our belt, especially with such a big group of newcomers,” she said. “To stay tough defensively and to pitch a shutout … I would have liked a goal, but I’ll take those other areas, especially early in the season.”
She knows that it’ll take a little bit of time before everyone gels. In the meantime, she will look to some newcomers to continue to step up in training, including a few that have turned her head and those of her assistants.
For Lane, the transition from Vale to Harkness has been smooth, because he’s worked with some of the younger players before.
“The girls know me and the ones who came up from the JV team know me, because I was around that program as well. That made the transition easier,” he said. “The playing philosophy is a little different, but the continuity is great.”
However, the graduation of players like Murray and Ramirez has left a leadership void in the Lane lineup.
Enter Rau, who is on her fourth year on Lane’s varsity squad.
She knows that her role will be different now as one of the elder stateswomen on the roster.
“It feels kind of weird, honestly, because I’ve always been the youngest on the team,” she said. “Now going from youngest to oldest has been a big transition, but I enjoy it because we have a lot of really good underclassmen.
“I thought the transition from last year’s squad might be harder, but we played a much better game this year against Loyola than last year. I think this year’s squad has a higher level of play. So, I think that even though we lost a lot of people, we gained a lot of really, really good people. It’s been more fluid than hard.”
Lane knows that if it wants to have a successful season not only in the Chicago Public League, but a potential deep run into the playoffs, playing teams like Loyola and fellow nonconference foes no. 20 Glenbrook North, no. 5 New Trier and no. 24 Stevenson, will just make them better.
“We want to play the best in the area,” Harkness said. “We want to expand our horizons beyond the city and challenge ourselves against the best, because I believe we belong at that level, and we’re going to play at that level.”
“We challenge ourselves, because that’s the level we feel we’re at.”
GK: Siena Belko
D: Aislin Anstee
D: Olivia Schmit
D: Olive Tinucci
MF: Alyssa LoVerde
MF: Kristiyana Sevova
MF: Jessica Carlson
MF: Grace Carman
F: Sofia Avila
F: Mary Rau
F: Avery Ellis
GK: Ellie Bradley
D: Maria Nikas
D: Sadie Merriott
D: Emily Pikarski
D: Caroline Southwell
D: Ellianna Seeley
MF: Emma Shaffer
MF: Claire Brady
F: Emmy Christopher
F: Tess O’Brien
F: Ella Couri
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Emily Pikarski, sr., D, Loyola