Evanston/New Trier is arguably the best rivalry on the North Shore and one of the best in Illinois. Whenever the two teams meet on whichever field or court, the game has significance.
That applies again when the Trevians, ranked eighth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, travel to their seventh-ranked archenemies for a 7 p.m. Tuesday battle of Central Suburban League South Division teams with unblemished conference records. The winner will sit in the catbird's seat with just one league game remaining afterward.
“In any sport, regardless of whether you’re at New Trier or at Evanston, when you’re playing the other, it has that added extra sauce to it,” New Trier manager Jim Burnside said. “Bottom line is it’s fun.”
That's especially true with a league title on the line.
“Setting yourself up in this situation is what you try to do,” Evanston’s Stacy Salgado said. “To have ourselves here is always a good thing. At the end of the day, to have the chance to win your division, given the competition, is great.”
Last season, the Wildkits beat New Trier in both of their meetings, 3-1 in the regular-season and 2-1 in the sectional semifinals en route to a fourth place Class 3A finish.
A big difference between last year’s New Trier squad and this year’s team has been how much the players have grown from the previous season.
A couple of things have helped Burnside’s squad get over what was one of their biggest bugaboos last year, putting the ball into the back of the net.
“I think it comes down to a lot of hard work,” he said. “This year, we’re able to keep the ball better and that allows us to create dangerous opportunities. And throughout those dangerous opportunities, we have the maturity to sense the timing, the patience to take advantage of them.
“It comes as a team. Even when we miss an opportunity, we pick each other up and say we’ll get another one.
“This year everybody knows their role, but their role might be different each game. That’s helpful, because it allows you to play against different opponents in different ways. It’s very comforting to know we can move some parts around, and we’ll have people step up.”
Salgado also enjoys lineup flexibility.
“One of our strengths is our versatility,” Salgado said. “We’ve got players who can play all different positions, and we try them in different positions as well.”
Both teams are coming off of impressive appearances in the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic. The Wildkits fell to Lyons in the title game; the Trevians were eked out by the same Lions squad in the semifinals.
New Trier has since started the Naperville Invitational, sweeping their pool, and play at Naperville North in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
“The girls are really buying into each other,” Burnside said. “There are different kids that step up each day. What we’re seeing is they can rely on each other, and that’s what happens when you play multiple good opponents in a short period of time.
“Every game is a big game, and that’s preparation for the playoffs. We want to be playing quality opponents.We want to test ourselves; we want every game to matter. Each game has its own relevance.”
Evanston has also been quite busy. After dropping its only game of the year in the Malnati’s championship, the Wildkits went 3-0-0 last week, including two conference wins.
“We try to look at one game at a time, so we’re never looking past anything,” Salgado said. “We never talk about games or preparations for them until we’re about to play them. It’s all about doing the small things first.”
Evanston also has a big event scheduled for this weekend. For the second-consecutive year, Evanston will travel to Bettendorf, Ia., for the Tournament of Champions.