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Season preview: Loyola

By Neil Milbert, 03/14/23, 10:45PM CDT


Loyola coach Shannon Hartinger and her Chicagoland  Soccer All-State senior defender Emily Pikarski go back a long way.
When Pikarski was a 6-year-old tyke beginning her soccer career, Hartinger was her Trevians’ youth coach.
Now, Pikarski is a four-year varsity starter for the Ramblers and one of the most talented and important players on the team.
“It was fun to see her in a Loyola uniform,” Hartinger said. “When she was a really little U8 player, her dad said she probably was going to Loyola. And now we’ve had her last four years together.”
Hartinger also can thank Pikarski’s father, John, for making Emily the only one of his five children to play soccer. “My dad played soccer but none of my (four older) siblings ever played,” she said. “I don’t know why he put me in soccer, but I’m so glad he did.”
A versatile defender who excels at taking corner kicks and free kicks, Pikarski had four goals and nine assists last season when the Ramblers advanced to a Class 3A sectional final before being eliminated by eventual state fourth place finisher Evanston.
“I’m a team player,” Pikarski said. “I like to give scoring opportunities to other players.”
The highest-profile player rejoining her this season is another Chicagoland Soccer All-State incumbent, goalkeeper Ellie Bradley, who thrives on squelching opposing players’ opportunities. After playing club soccer as a freshman Bradley switched to high school soccer as a sophomore and has been a Loyola starter ever since. Last season she had 13 shutouts and gave up only 14 goals to compile a 0.736 goals-against average.
“This year we have eight seniors and one junior returning (from the 2022 roster) and 16 newcomers,” said Hartinger, who played at North Carolina State. She is starting her fifth season as Loyola’s coach. “We’re younger than we were last year when we were very senior-heavy. We have a nice mix of young talent with players who have experience at the varsity level. Even though we’re young we have a lot of talent.
“We’re still assessing the players individually and how they fit within the team dynamic.
“We’re fortunate to have Ellie in the net; she has had two great seasons for us. We also return a portion of our backline.  Elliana Seeley (a senior on Chicagoland Soccer’s All-State Watch List last season) and (junior) Maria Nikas were starters last season.”
Bradley believes her contributions this season can go beyond making saves.
“I want to step up and be a leader,” she said. “Last year we had a huge senior class to provide leadership. It’s exciting to step up and take on that role.
“I’ve been playing in goal since I was 10. It has helped me learn the game better and see things my teammates may not notice and pass it on to them.”
Graduation cost Loyola two Chicagoland Soccer All-State players—midfielder Grace Ehlert, a two-time Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division Player of the Year and the fourth-leading scorer in school history, and forward Kathryn Dibik, who tallied 14 goals and eight assists.
“I don’t think we can ever replace a player like Grace,” said Hartinger. “But I think we have a lot of players, including some of our newcomers, who are ready to make a contribution.”
The coach considers Emma Shaffer in the midfield and fellow senior Ella Couri up-front to be “key players.”
“Last year was Ella Couri’s first year of high school soccer, and she had an impact. She created a lot of opportunities,” Hartinger said.  “Tess O’Bryan is another player who is really good around the box. Another senior, Emily Christopher, also had a good year and she is looking to make more of an impact this year.
“I think our newcomers all can get playing time right away. I believe some of our sophomores can compete.
“We’re looking to build a solid core of players so that we increase our depth and know that players can interchange and give us different looks depending on who our opponents are.”
Reinforcing Hartinger’s nucleus in goal is sophomore Berkley Dorsten in goal. 

Seniors Eleanor Goodrich and Caroline Southwell, juniors Molly Briody and Sadie Merriott and sophomores Elle Hickman and Mia Wisler will shore up the defense.
Sophomores Claire Brady, Mim Fritzsche, Izzy Garcia, Grace Lynch and Callie Sharfstein are working hard to give the Ramblers a strong midfield presence.
Juniors Emily Plovanich and Ellie Vehovsky, and sophomores Lillianna Ciesla, Nadia Clifford and Gigi Hensley plan to add to the scoresheet at forward. 

The entire roster will strive to maintain Loyola’s impressive history of success.

After finishing last season ranked 11th in the state in Chicagoland Soccer Final 50 rankings, the Ramblers eye this season from the 14th spot of the First 50 preseason poll. 

Loyola will look to add to its incredible run of 16 regional titles in the past 19 seasons.

Titles in the GCAC Red Division are also a regular occurrence in Wilmette. There are trophies from the current 13-year run on display. Over the last six seasons, Loyola is 35-0-3 in league play.
The Ramblers also have a tournament title to defend. They shared the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic crown with Lyons last season.