By Patrick Z. McGavin
LAKE FOREST — Fragments of games are caught up in emotion and suddenness.
The entirety has dovetailing parts and secondary figures and sequences.
The game is a novel, and the moments are paragraphs and sentences that create the form and structure, it's reason for being.
Contrasts and disruptions create the drama.
Loyola had the momentum, Lake Forest the nerves and uncertainty and somewhat unknown questions following a long interruption in activity.
“We take every game as an opportunity to show up, and show everyone who we really are,” Lake Forest defender Ava Walsh said.
As the opening statement in one of the Chicago area's best regular-season tournaments, Loyola and Lake Forest had something to say.
“This is still a very new team, so we have to build chemistry, but I think we have been doing really well,” Loyola forward Emily Plovanich said.
“We have shown that we work very well together.”
The Ramblers, ranked 25th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, generated the greater opportunities and chances only to be stymied by the brilliant play of Lake Forest keeper Sarah Constantine in the scoreless opening game of the 5th annual Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic on Thursday.
The Group C teams kicked off the highly touted tournament two days before the other 10 teams to accommodate Loyola’s spring break schedule.
Lake Forest (2-1-1) cameoff its own long break and played its first game since a tough 2-1 loss against 14th-ranked Carmel on March 22.
Loyola (2-2-3, 1-0-0) was in the middle of its most impressive stretch of the early season, battling no. 9 Evanston to a 2-2 tie and beating previously ranked conference foe St. Ignatius.
“We went into the game obviously nervous about their recent results, their record and everything,” Lake Forest defender Riley Hoskins said.
“We also just got back from spring break, and we were a little nervous about how we were going to play. I think we showed even though we haven’t been at it for a while, we proved who we are.”
Last season’s defending Deep Dish Classic co-champions both came out of Group C.
Lyons won the pool, and Loyola qualified for the semifinal bracket as the wild card.
Lyons beat Naperville North in a shootout, and Loyola upset Stevenson.
The teams were ruled co-champions after weather caused the final to be postponed and a mutually agreeable make-up date was not possible.
Loyola defender defender Ellianna Seeley offered: “I feel like we were go-getters the whole season last year, and the tournament proved what we could accomplish.”
On Malnati’s opening night 2023, Constantine was the dominant story.
She posted nine saves to register her third shutout of the season. The two goals she conceded against Carmel are the only two the Scouts have permitted.
At nearly 5-foot-11, she has the length to go with range and athleticism to get to most shots. The Ramblers found that out after creating considerable pressure and generating set piece opportunities.
Constantine was a literal brick wall.
“I like to play with high energy and focus,” she said. “Right away, out there today, I saw myself talking more.
“That’s how I keep my focus on during these big games.”
Without forward Ella Couri, Plovanich took the lead role up-top for Loyola,
She was decisive and creative with the ball, getting to the edge and helping Loyola push numbers forward.
“Our mentality today was just to come in and keep that energy up,” Plovanich said.
“We remembered that even though we are a new team, we can go out there and compete against teams that have been together longer and have a lot of connection together.”
Ironically, if if Loyola had the advantage in possession time and play in the final third in the first half, Lake Forest actually had the best scoring chance.
In the 20th minute, freshman midfielder Maddie Cummins controlled a ball from the left flank from about 14 yards.
She blasted a rocket ball that Loyola keeper Ellie Bradley leapt at before making a remarkable catch.
On the other end of the pitch, Lake Forest’s Walsh, a gifted two-way talent who is listed as a forward, plays all over the field.
Operating as the left outside back, she excelled at developing the attack. Even if it did not lead to a goal, her play stood out as a bright spot.
“Usually I can get it out of the back when I’m a defender, and then carry it up the field either down the line or past somebody else,” Walsh said.
“I can try to cross it into the box or hopefully another one of our forwards can take advantage. I definitely use my speed as something to scare players.”
Walsh had a couple of other solid opportunities in the second half.
She was a player whose presence and athleticism posed challenges.
Loyola’s backline, with the excellent play of Bradley, has also yielded strong defensive results.
The game marked their second scoreless tie, and third shutout of the year.
With Seeley and fellow center back, Emily Pikarski, Loyola has a commanding blend of athleticism, size, speed and savvy.
“We definitely know how to work with one another,” Seeley said. “Sadie Merriott is also new, and we are finding out how to play together.
“I am very confident with our team. A lot of the girls have played competitive club, and we are used to this. We just need to stick together, and we are going to be good.”
Pikarski is one of the best free kick specialists around. She played in four terrific balls throughout the game. The most significant, a shot from 39 yards in the 70th minute, required a great leaping stab from Constantine .
“I was kind of yelling, and telling everybody where to go, but I just knew where the high balls were, even some of the trickier ones,” Constantine said.
“I just had to read it and get my feet underneath it.”
Sophomore midfielder Claire Brady was another bright spot for Loyola.
Her shot from 17 yards in the 46th minute forced another highlight reel stop from Constantine, who made a quick sidestep to her right for the deflection.
Brady is one of the sophomores new to the Ramblers.
“It has been great,” Brady said. “I think seeing the team last year, and seeing how much they accomplished, I knew I was coming into something bigger.
“Every single senior and the returning juniors have been so welcoming for all of the sophomores. I feel like we can grow, and we have so much that we can accomplish in the program.”
In any scoreless game, either side has shots they’d like back or a second chance at.
Loyola skied a couple of shots high or over the bar when Constantine was not vacuuming up everything in sight.
Lake Forest had a couple of near chances, most significantly a shot in the mouth of the goal by forward Kendall Snodgrass in the 76th minute. It was deflected and cleared by a Loyola defender.
The first month of any season is naturally an open book with seemingly endless possibilities. Both teams have two more pool games to see if they have a chance to pen a championship chapter.
On Monday, Lake Forest takes on fourth-ranked Lyons, and Loyola faces Glenbrook South.
In the end Thursday, Loyola was good, but Sarah Constantine was just slightly better.
The final words of this story go to the pair who shared the MVP of the Match distinction.
“It was exciting out there,” Planovich said. “It was tough that we didn’t score a goal, but I think the energy was really good.
“We had a good fight.”
Said Constantine: “We all play hard, and in practice our team brings good energy.
“By working hard that makes everyone better. We are starting to develop our relationships with each other, and that is going to help us.”
Editor's note: To view Chicagoland Soccer's new Lou Malnati's Deep Dish Classic page with schedules, scores, standings and stories, click here.
GK: Ellie Bradley
D: Maria Nikas
D: Ellianna Seeley
D: Emily Pikarski
D: Sadie Merriott
MF: Emma Shaffer
MF: Claire Brady
MF: Grace Lynch
F: Emily Plovanich
F: Emmy Christopher
F: Ellie Vehovsky
GK: Sarah Constantine
D: Ava Walsh
D: Sophie Benjkakul
D: Riley Hoskins
D: Hanna Sands
MF: Kendall Snodgrass
MF: Sophie Gauthier
MF: Chloe Vhostik
MF: Lainey Tabor
F: Lily Cran
F: Maeve Bradley
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Sarah Constantine, jr., GK, Lake Forest; Emily Plovanich, jr., F, Loyola